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A day in the life: students in Kenya

Our ‘day in the life’ feature goes global as Katy Duff (2014) talks about a day volunteering with Maji Mazuri, a social development charity in Nairobi. She has spent a month of her summer vacation working there, with Liam Hammond (2013), Stefan Ulrich (2013), Alison Humphreys (2012), and Sarah Murphy (2012).

8am Wake up after a night spent on mattresses on the floor of one of the rooms in Esther’s house – our lovely, welcoming host Mum. Her house has a TV, two flushing toilets, a gas cooker and a microwave. It would be well below the poverty line in the UK, but in Nairobi is considered highly affluent. Eat a breakfast of chapatti, leftover rice or fresh fruit from the market stalls.

9am We get picked up by Kimani our driver, a man who is always so sharply dressed. Today he is wearing suit trousers, a heavy leather jacket and a bucket hat. We are going to the disabled children’s centre in Kasarani, but on other days we will go to Headstart Primary School based in Mathare slum.

10.30am Arrive at the Children’s Centre in Kasarani after a very bumpy ride over the many potholes and ‘roads’ of Nairobi. It would be fair to say that after all the bruises we have accumulated, we know the roads of Nairobi very intimately!


The Children’s Centre has two classes. The older class has students aged 11 to 34 who are learning vocational skills, such as mat making or beading. Its members are divided into two groups: those who are self aware and can learn by example of the teacher and those who don’t have the self awareness to take part. The children learn such vocational skills so as to have a possible future business if they are integrated back into society on leaving the Centre. I head over to the younger special needs class for children age 4 to 10. They focus on learning through play and visual and mental stimulation, watching the television and playing with building blocks, lego and picture cards. Giggs, named after the footballer Ryan, is one of the most communicative children and always greets me with a big smile. I let him chase me around the balcony of the centre, giggling joyfully whilst pushing his walker to run after me. Then when he gets tired I help him to play with the Lego and the picture cards, getting him to find the pairs and match them up.

1pm All the children gather in the playground next to the kitchen for lunch. We help those who cannot feed themselves, spooning the big plates of rice, vegetables, and fruit into their mouths. After eating everyone gets some water and we mop around them, because inevitably a lot of the food has missed their mouths. We then eat ourselves, and go back to tasks that we have each been working on. Today I am tutoring the older part-time residents who board at other high schools and return for the holidays, teaching them about the use of the comma.

4pm We get ready to leave the Centre. We have to set off so early because the traffic can be so bad that it can take 4 and a half hours at times to get back home to Esther’s. Driving along the Kenyan roads is an interesting experience, with matatu (bus) drivers blatantly ignoring all rules of the road, motorbikes swerving through the two lines of static cars and people constantly coming up to the car and trying to sell us anything from lampshades to bananas. We also look out along miles of ramshackle shops and salons along the side of the road next to piles of burning rubbish and black sewage water, which at first was fairly distressing sight to see but now is understood as one of the realities of urban Kenyan life.


6pm – We get dropped off at the edge of the Ngumo suburb and walk along the road to Esther’s house, passing many green grocers shops made of wood and pieces of tarpaulin. In the evening, Esther teaches Liam and I to make chapatti, one of the tastiest national foods of Kenya – in our opinion! It’s made of nothing but flour, water, a little salt and sugar. We knead and prepare the dough ready for proving. Stacy, Esther’s elder daughter, then helps me to wash some of my clothes, just using a bar of soap and some detergent in a bucket. We then come back to the chapatti, which we finish preparing and then fry to eat with a side of lentils.

9pm We usually watch the news on the chatty Citizen channel with Esther – which always provides some interesting headlines, such as ‘Grannies learning English for Obama’s visit’. Last week, we made it onto Kenyan TV ourselves, wandering around in the background of a wedding show whilst the bride and groom were being interviewed!

10pm We all head to bed, making sure we get a good night’s sleep for a full day of work the next day.

For more information on the project, see the original blog post here.

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