2023: tre Volontari di Maisha Marefu alla Girgir School di Arches Post

A day at Girgir Primary School
It’s 7:45 am. Today is Monday. The classrooms at Girgir Primary School, as every other Monday at
this time of the day, are empty. The pupils are all gathering in the open space at the center of the
school compound, where some stand in their green while others in their white uniforms.

Closebythere are numerous signs with inspiring messages hanging from the branches of a leafless tree in  the center of the yard that infuse inspiration to the students: “To lift yourself up you need to lift somebody else with you”, “Peace is always beautiful”, or my favorite, “nothing is impossible”. In front of them, every learner has taken its place in a box delimited by small rocks in the sand, starting from the
youngest – those who have recently entered the school, aged 5 or 6 – to the left all the way to the
graduating students – around 17 years old- to the right.
Around the school, a general sensation of calm pervades every corner of the landscape. Archers Post,
the town where the school is located, is slowly waking up, its villagers willing to make use of the first
hours of the day to conduct their business, when the everpresent sun is conceding to them a truce from
its warmest rays. Lions, cheetahs and leopards, as well as an army of mosquitos, are retreating under
the thin shadow of the dry acacia trees in the nearby Samburu National Park after a night of hunting.
The mountains, headed by the sacred Ololokwe tower in the horizon with their reassuring but stark
rocky presence.
This placid, almost suspended atmosphere is suddenly animated by the joyful and warm voice of the
900 students lined up in the school yard, who chant prayers and their national anthem in both Swahili
and English – the two national languages. “We are the land of Simba, the children of Kenya” they
sing, after they invoke God’s blessings upon them driven by their sincere faith. In the apex of this
choir, the national Kenyan flag is solemnly raised, closely followed by the remarks of Josiah Muriithi,
the school headmaster, who congratulates the students for their good deeds and sets the goals for the
upcoming week.
As soon as his speech is concluded, the almost military rigidity and attention of the assembly melts
into the cheerful rush to class, accompanied by a vibrant sound of laughter and a thick cloud of dust
lifted from the sandy ground of the childrens’ running.
In a matter of minutes, the school yard is clear, and the students are ready for their morning lessons.
Subjects such as math, integrated science, physical health, history, swahili and more will be taught
throughout the day.
My fellow volunteers and I can use this time to visit the compound, accompanied by the headmaster.
Since 1963, year of its founding, Girgir Primary School has expanded to include around 900 students
and to cover the current 20 acres of land. Across this area, separate one-story concrete blocks
constitute the classrooms where students spend most of their day. The majority of them are painted in
a worn-off blue, whereas some have been recently repainted in green and white, giving them a new
fresh, and much needed, appearance. In fact, despite the staff and children’s tireless effort to keep the
classrooms hospitable, the lack of water to secure proper cleaning and the inability to pay for renewal
shows a visible degradation of the pupils’ working place. The latest work from the volunteers and
recent donation of new furniture for the classes coming from Maisha Marefu, the NGO that has been
devoting its efforts to provide humanitarian and technical support to the schools in the area, have

reshaped some of the classrooms, for the joy of the students; nevertheless, renovation is still underway
and will require more work, and critically more funding, to include the whole compound.
After visiting the classes, we move on to the second section of the compound, where we are shown
three blocks, the dormitories, where around 330 students reside permanently. From the outside, the
buildings look much like the classes, except for their slightly bigger size. Inside, shaky and rusty beds
crammed altogether are the only furniture present, with no space for students’ personal belongings but
their beds. Once more, donations from Maisha Marefu have resulted in a big impact, as new
mattresses have arrived to replace the old broken ones.
Despite these dire conditions, living in the school is crucial for boarders. It comes with a higher
probability of receiving two meals a day and some water, something that cannot be guaranteed to
them at home.
It’s around 12:30. We return to the open space at the center of the compound, where the morning
assembly took place. It’s lunchtime and students are queuing, with small bowls in their hands, to
receive their meal. It normally consists of either rice, maize or ugali, the latter being a typical Kenyan
preparation made of wheat flour, usually accompanied with some beans or cabbage as a side. Meat or
any sort of variety is a luxury that they cannot afford. As a result, the protein intake for these learners
is next to zero. Josiah, the headmaster, explains to us how difficult it is to provide food for all
students. Indeed, the government and donors like Maisha Marefu play a crucial role in supplying food,
but sometimes it is not enough to counter food shortage and very high prices.
Lack of proper nutrition not only endangers the students’ physical health and learning abilities, but it
also negatively impacts attendance rates to school, as kids prefer to stay at home in search of
something to eat. “There is no learning without food”, the headmaster tells us.
Lunchtime quickly ends and two more hours of classes await the students, followed by interactive
initiatives like sport games and debates. At around 5 pm, students who do not sleep in the dormitories
start walking back – everyone walks here, irrespectively of their age or distance they have to cover – to
their homes, whereas the boarders have some free time to clean or to study. They have been awake for
more than 12 hours now, as they always start their days at 4:30 am after six hours of sleep.
Nevertheless, the boarders still have the energy to play in the dusty field behind the classrooms,
running around barefoot on the sharp stones and using the remaining of what used to be a ball. They
are cheerful, smiling, and happy. So little material belongings, so much inner richness.
It’s 6:30 pm. The dying sun, in the most magic and ephemeral hour of the day, sets over Archer’s Post,
unleashing a triumph of orange and yellow shades. It’s the end of another day at Girgir Primary
school, and it coincides with the boarders supper: beans and maize, a dish called “githeri”, here in
Kenya. While the students calmly enjoy their meal, the sun completes its course, taking with it the
problems of the school and the community and in exchange laying upon the school a veil of relief and
It’s 7:45pm. Another day has gone by. Life has won at Girgir primary school. It’s something to be
very grateful for.

Lorenzo Bersellini

Paolo Bigi

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