“Got-Rateng” is a Luo word that translates to the “Black Hill”. The school is neither located near a Hill nor is it Black in color to be clear. Got-Rateng is the school I was transferred to when I started performing poorly. My dad thought it was a good idea I have the village school experience so as to appreciate things I took for granted.
I moved from Nairobi where I had grown up and learned all my life to a place deep in Nyanza region, in the western part of Kenya. The other reason for this move was to secure a good high school after final year examinations. Students performing really well in village schools are given first priority for the best high schools in the country.
Got-Rateng was the typical village school by all definition; from the assembly ground which was marked by arranged stones to the school uniform students were required to wear. A worn-out pair of shorts having numerous patches over it was the norm unlike my full school uniform matched with a black pair of shoes. I was an anomaly in this setting.
There are some good memories and experiences in Got-Rateng that still linger freshly in my mind like singing uplifting songs every morning and evening before and after classes. The communal feeling bonded students and teachers, forming a tight knit community.
While all these were good memories, there is great disparity between city and village schools. In village classes, the large number of students requires the sharing of textbooks — which can be awkward and stressful. Students without books during an English lesson would move to sit with classmates who had the textbook being used. Home assignments were a challenge because books were limited. Either you completed assignments at school before leaving for home or paired up with those who lived close by in order to complete assignments together.
There were times in Got-Rateng when I was unable to find a peaceful environment in which to read. The school had no library. There was a bookstore where old syllabus books and other books in poor and worn-out condition were kept. But the space set aside in the bookstore could not accommodate students to read. Moses and the Man from Mars series, Moses and the *…….I wanted to read such books and immerse myself in a fictional world, but this was never possible. Village students never get to read to expand their imaginations beyond their reality. What if there was such a space, a place they could go to get books to enhance their reading skills and enable them to explore the world — at least through books.
At Got-Rateng as a 12-year-old boy I sat with a classmate who was 8 years older because he missed earlier stages of schooling due to a lack of school fees. I saw classmates miss months of school and return to repeat academic years because of a lack of finances. The age difference played a role in diminishing the self-esteem of the older students who shared classes with younger students. It wasn’t their fault they lacked school fees. It was in Got-Rateng that a female classmate had her period during a joint examination with other schools and had to use her sweater to cover herself from that embarrassing moment.
That time in Got-Rateng revealed to me that there was more to be done in the rural/village schools compared to the cities. Got-Rateng taught me to be grateful. It taught me to appreciate the little things I took for granted like electricity which was in only a few homesteads. It opened my eyes to the fact there is more to be done and opened my heart to the fact that I can play a part as an individual in impacting my own community.
Currently I am a member of African Orphan Educational Foundation’s [AOEF] Youth Advisory Council where they support Kenyan and other African children by providing hope and empowerment through education. I am truly excited and grateful to be part of AOEF and play a part for the African child (Kenyan child) to have a chance at improving their life prospects through education.
“The need is great. The reward is greater.”
Written by: Brian Ouma Ochieng, Kenya