I have been going to Five Star Academy for the past 5 years to mentor children through Lifesong Kenya. Each time I go there, I keep looking for one boy or girl who will stand out from the rest. It is hard to stand out when you are in a school filled with underprivileged children. Most of the students at the school often try all they can to blend into the crowd.
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I visited the school last week to collect progress reports of the Standing With Boys pilot program we have been having with 50 boys in the school.
“Who did this?” I asked, when I saw rows of beautiful growing vegetables at the parade ground.
“One of the boys in the school,” Charles, the head teacher and founder of Five Star Academy replied.
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Five Star Academy
Charles started Five Star Academy in 2008 to help children in Kangemi. The students pay a minimal fee of 500 shillings (about 5 dollars) per month. That money takes care of school fees, teachers’ salary and lunch. Compared to what other parents pay in other schools, 500 shillings is an insignificant amount. Yet many parents have a challenge paying school fees.
“This has led to a large turnover of teachers,” Charles explains. “Teachers keep coming and going because I am not able to pay a good salary for their services. When I allow a child to stay in school without paying school fees, some of them think I’ve pocketed the money and don’t want to pay them. Yet this is not the reason and the truth.
The other challenge we have is that many parents are either not able to pay or interested in their children’s education. Most of them prefer seeing their children work as watchmen and house helps so they can have an extra source of income,” Charles continued. “These are the things that force me to allow the children who can’t pay school fees to continue learning.”
“I feel frustrated most of the time,” Charles said. “However, there is one boy who has shown me that my sacrifice has not been in vain. Unlike the other students I have had before, this boy stands out. When he came in, he started helping me to make desks, repair classes and cut grass at the parade. And though he is not good academically, I decided to make him the school head boy because he has shown he is responsible.”
The making of a farming school head boy
“This boy makes sure the school gate is closed at the end of the day and comes in early in the morning to open the gate before the other students arrives. We are no longer worried about cutting grass and keeping the parade ground tidy. Instead, we are looking forward to harvesting, selling vegetables and having extra cash for the school, thanks to our school head boy.”
I knew he was a very special school head boy the moment I saw him. I have met thousands of boys since I begun mentoring and empowering young people. Each one of them is special in their own unique way. However, the farming school head boy is shoulders above all of them.
Feel free to connect and adopt one student. School fees is 6000 shillings ($60) for a whole year.
Full name: Charles Oduor Obonyo
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The making of a farming school head boy interview
My name is Hillary Wandera and I’m 17 years old. Teacher Charles has been paying my school fees for the last three years. I’m not very good academically. My desire is to learn how to read, write and do basic math and communicate with those who buy my farm produce. But I am good with planting crops, keeping poultry and raring rabbits. My plan was to appreciate what Teacher Charles has done to me and other children at Five Star.
I learned how to plant vegetables while staying with my grandmother in Busia. I’ve been planting vegetables ever since I came to Nairobi four years ago. This year, I decided to ask Teacher Charles if I can plant vegetables at the parade instead of having to cut grass now and again.
I sell vegetables during the weekend when I borrow my landlord’s wheelbarrow and take the vegetables to the market. After I sell, I give my landlord some money to pay for the wheelbarrow. I learn a lot from my landlord, like where to buy seedlings and look after my vegetables. That is why I have to pay him. Doing this teaches me not to expect anything for free; I have to work for it.
I also have two rabbits and chicken that I bought after selling vegetables and negotiating with the owner. He agreed to sell after I kept going back to him. I wish I had a big farm where I can plant more crops, trees, cows, rabbits and chicken. This would enable me to earn more and support other children.
I’m not ashamed that my father is a watchman
(Laughs)… I would show them what I have been able to do with a small space then explain why I need a bigger space before I can ask for it. There are schools that have big pieces of land where grass grows. I think schools should use those pieces of land to plant vegetables and have projects that can help school children get food and a source of income for the school.
My father is a watchman and I’m not ashamed of this. I don’t believe that I will also become a watchman like him. I believe every child can become whatever they desire to be in the future. Having a poor parent doesn’t mean you will also end up poor. You only become poor when you fail to pursue your talents or work hard in school.
Right now, I am able to buy books, kerosene, sugar and soap at home. I also pay what I can in school and share some of it with other students so Teacher Charles doesn’t have all the burden.
Much as I am poor, I have something to give back. I am good in planting and selling things. That is what I focus on. I challenge children and those who are being helped to do something instead of receiving help and doing nothing in return. If a parent cannot pay school fees and their child has a talent, I would advise them to allow their children to pursue their talent. You never know how that may help their children in the future.
Meeting Hillary Wandera reminded and reassured me that our work is not in vain. To me, he is a perfect example of a responsible young man who knows where his strength lies. What’s more, he is practicing what most head boys and school children of his age are learning in theory. He has a firsthand experience what it means to grow and profit from cash crops, rabbits and chicken.
As I left Five Star Academy and rushed to my next interview, I felt so blessed and happy. We have already called and spoken with Warren Amuguni, who is an accomplished farmer to mentor and guide him. I am looking forward to seeing Hillary Wandera grow as well as wait to see what will become of the farming project he has started at Five Star Academy. Lastly, I also can’t wait to see what Tracy Hanson and Patty Liston will have to say about this wonderful farming school head boy.
Feel free to leave your comments and thoughts about the making of a farming school head boy.
James Ouma is a CTI Clarity Coach, Cyclist and Writer. He is passionate about positive masculinity and helping incarcerated male teens to reconcile with their families and their communities. He loves staring at his bicycle, flipping through movies without watching them, and playing ‘tap out’ with his wife.