We transformed an old storage building at Aitong Boarding Primary School into a vibrant library and learning center embraced by students, teachers, and the whole community. This was a very special project, as this school was Amos's alma mater.
by Amos Kipeen
On 7th of May 2022, we were excited to launch the first Aitong Boarding Primary School Library in Maasai Mara. This is a public school in the village of Aitong drawing 1100 students in grades 1 to 8 from a large rural area in the northern Mara. The school is among the oldest public schools in the area and has earned credentials of producing responsible citizens and potential leaders. Courtesy of Aitong Primary, a majority of locals who are today community influencers went to school here ranging from managers of conservancies, teaching, medicine, and other sectors. And yet, the school had very few resources.
On a personal level, this project was a dream come true. This is where I went to school as a youngster. I have always wanted to do something transformative for my former school, even though we initiated smaller projects before such as computer literacy program for upper classes (grades 7 and 8) through the Mara Discovery Centre while supporting environmental clubs and so forth. The establishment of the Aitong Primary Library through Oliveseed was indeed a great opportunity for us to refurbish an old building, partly used for storage, into a beautiful learning resource center. The building was quite dilapidated, and the roof was rusted and full of leakages. To even make this project possible, we had to do a total makeover of the building from floors, windows, new roof, and shelving (photo gallery).
Like all our education projects at Oliveseed, this library aims at fostering a culture of critical thinking, nurturing multiple literacies, differentiating learning, personalizing resources, and building empathy and a disposition for lifelong learning. The ultimate goal will be to bring a unique view to learning as the library serves in an instructional role that spans grade levels and content areas while engaging with students throughout their years in the school.
Growing up and going to Aitong Primary School was an exceptional part of my life. I used to trek a distance of 10km every day from home to school and back, and I never had books, lights, or other essential learning materials. We were sleeping in a closet inside the classroom that doubled as teaching space and dormitory in the night — in fact, we put the library in that very building! The experience made me what I am today. I learnt to be tolerant, built resilience, and ensured that my academic ambitions were achieved through hard work and continuous engagement. However, the difficult parts are not something I wish other learners to go through. I remember vividly that we used to sleep on the classroom floor on cow hides that were used as mats to lie on in the night with no mattresses. My classmates remember this well. I have always wanted to improve this school for future generations.
When we first visited the school in 2021, the head teacher Mr. Julius Kanyoro pointed to us that the need and highest priority of the school was a library. Being a public school mostly accommodating pupils who are not well off, the school had a serious deficiency of learning materials, which is reflected in poor academic performance. As one of the English teachers, Emma Wanjiru, said, “The reason why kids in public schools do not perform well academically is because of lack of learning resources. Even though the teachers are doing their best, they still have so much limitations to attend each individual pupil adequately especially when one class comprises up to 100 pupils.”
Most of the public schools in Kenya play a fundamental role of absorbing a huge population of students. Since the government enacted the law that every child should go to school, it’s sometimes disastrous for public schools to maintain the pressure with meagre resources and little aid from the government. We are glad that part of this problem is addressed at Aitong, as we have equipped the library with over 2000 books that include curricular books, teacher guides, books for pleasure reading, and educational games and puzzles, in addition to computers to support the library in research and wider reading. In the words of Madam Dorcas, English teacher at Aitong:
"There is no public school that has the same facility like Aitong Boarding. We are happy indeed to have a modern library. It will help us to improve especially in English and other languages.”
What I treasure most is coming back after years of working to establish this project through the support of my project partner Barbs Mackraz, the founder of Oliveseed US. We extend our thanks to Jolene, Robin, Bob, and GeeGee, good friends in the States for their invaluable support of this project. Our partner Gregory of Text Book Center provided 3-day capacity-building trainings to the teachers and students, and the Aitong school committee led by Mr. Kanyoro, Aitong Head Teacher, played a significant role. We also recognize the community contribution by Jonathan Sadera, Aitong Board Chair, who assisted us in the remodeling the old building into a new vibrant space for the learning resource center. Jonathan together with his colleagues on the board approved and dedicated the building for the project, which coincidentally was the same classroom I did my 8th grade in before proceeding to high school.
During the launching ceremony, the entire community of Aitong, the parents, and local leaders joined us, including Hon Joseph Ketuyio Mara, ward former Member of County Assembly. The project attracted media groups, Citizen TV, and local radio among others. It was indeed captivating to witness the immediate impacts created from that first day. Pupils celebrated the occasion with songs and poems, and by the end of the ceremony each parent offered to buy one book to add to the library, a clear indicator of appreciations and community ownership of the project.
As opined by William Butler Yeats, “Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.” I trust that the impacts of the Aitong Library will be a spark that will light up minds and transforms lives. Conclusively, the library will ignite the culture of reading, and instill the spirit of humanity and virtues to young pupils so that they grow up to become not only responsible citizens but leading lights that illuminate the environment around them.
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About the Author
Amos Kipeen is co-founder and executive director of Oliveseed Kenya. A native of the Maasai Mara, he is a lifelong conservationist and activist for education and community empowerment.