- How the School Began
- Expanding to Include Primary Classes
- Volunteering at Epico Jahns
- Sponsor a Child's Education
- Contact Us
- A Story from the Early Days
- Proposed Primary School
How the School Began
During 1999, Betty Lubanga, the wife of the Executive Director of Volunteer Kenya, and her sister-in-law Grace noticed that many children in the community were not attending school. They decided to visit with each of the parents to find out why. It was, for the most part, a financial issue. Although primary education is now “free” in Kenya , most parents still cannot afford the cost of uniforms, transport, books, supplies, or meals. Furthermore, older children cannot attend primary school without first attending preschool. Now, at the time that Betty and Grace were starting the preschool, there were the school fees as well as the other expenses of getting an education. This made it impossible for many families to send their children to school.
So Betty and Grace decided to start a free community preschool. Having no separate building and no funds, they used the tiny church in the middle of the family compound. This was a room smaller than our average bedroom, with a rusty tin roof, crumbling mud walls, and a dusty mud floor. Doors and windows are just open spaces left out of the walls. Betty, Grace, and then Betty's cousin Irene worked
Expanding to Include Primary Classes
In July of 2001, we began constructing a new preschool near the current site. Construction was completed during August of 2001. The new preschool has two classrooms and an office, cement walls and floors, with lockable doors and windows, appropriately sized chairs and tables, a teacher's desk and cabinet for locking up supplies, chalkboards and posters on the walls.
More teachers joined the school and the teachers began using the second room as a first grade (called Standard 1). As the number of students increased, it became impossible for Betty and Grace to continue to offer free schooling. They began asking parents to at least contribute what ever they could towards supplies and food for lunches. Many could not offer anything and Betty was forced to turn away children. It broke her heart every time. The enrolment kept increasing and in the summer of 2003, a third room was completed. The school, now called Epico Jahns Academy , has a pre-school class, and grades 1-8. As of 2009, there are over 450 students. Based on the school’s test scores, the school ranks as one of the best providers of primary school education in the western region of Kenya.
Volunteering at Epico Jahns Academy
Volunteering at Epico Jahns is one of our most exciting and rewarding volunteering experiences. Our local staff of Kenyan teachers is always very excited to have new volunteers join them in the classroom. Volunteers are able to teach alongside our trained staff of local teachers in their choice of Grade 1 through Grade 8. If volunteers have a particular knowledge in a certain subject area (such math, geography, or science) they are encouraged to focus their experience on teaching those subject classes. Most of our volunteers at Epico Jahns have been college or graduate students who are Education majors and are looking for a once in a lifetime experience to teach at the grassroots level in rural Africa .
We have also had numerous volunteers with non-teaching backgrounds. Volunteers have included homemakers, lawyers, retired professionals, businessmen/women, etc. The main requirement is a love for children and teaching, and a desire to be a part of a dynamic and interactive classroom environment.
We have also had adult volunteers who were or had been teachers in their home countries. We even had a family of four come to volunteer and the wife taught at Epico Jahns, the two young children attended class at Epico, and the husband worked on the various other Volunteer Kenya programs.
The students at Epico begin learning English in pre-school and by Grade 4 have very good English skills Therefore, knowledge of Swahili is not needed. Although only trained teachers and Education majors will be given the opportunity to teach unsupervised, the local teachers always welcome a helping hand and will assign tasks that are appealing to individual. Volunteers are able to contribute on whatever level they feel comfortable
Openings for volunteer teachers at Epico are year round except for the following time periods when the school is on break: April, mid November to second week in January, and August. The students are off for two weeks during April and August and so we prefer volunteers not to come during these months. However, if you really want to come during April or August, you could work in one of our other volunteer programs during the 2 weeks that the students are off from school.
Sponsor a Child's Education
In a separate project, before the introduction of first and second grades at Epico Jahns, Elke Jahns, a member of Outreach Kenya Development Volunteers at Indiana University , set up a program with Betty to send fifteen of the pre-school children to primary school. This included the cost of uniforms, books, school supplies and other fees. Funds were collected to cover the first year. Betty made the necessary administrative arrangements, and sent Elke regular updates, as well as receipts and report cards. She was also kind enough to help the parents with the necessary errands and the children with their schoolwork.
That was the beginning of our "Sponsor a Child's Education" program. Now that Epico Jahns is expanding, this program allows a student to attend the school and have all related costs covered. This includes uniforms, books, school supplies, a hot lunch, and transportation to/from school for those who live to far to walk alone. Hopefully, if this program becomes a success, Betty will never again have the daunting task of turning away a child whose only desire is to learn.
The school fees we collect from the students are never enough to cover our costs of operating the school. The vast majority of our students cannot afford to pay the school fees that we are forced to charge in order to properly run the school. Therefore, we rely on the continued support of several past volunteers groups to help with our yearly running costs, as well as support from the Sponsor a Child’s Education program. Below is a summary of the Sponsor a Child fees for interested donors.
We are also happy to accept donations towards school equipment, supplies, or teacher's salaries. The school is always in need of notebooks, paper, folders, pens, pencils, teaching materials, etc. We are also hoping to build a computer lab at some point in the future. All school supply donations can be shipped directly to:
Epico Jahns Academy
c/o Betty Lubanga
PO Box 459
A Story from the Early Days
Through the eyes of Elke, here is a glimpse of the early days at the school......
"Thank you, Teacher, Goodbye, Teacher, until we meet again..."
Every day in the preschool ends with the children singing this refrain. It's been thrilling, crazy, frustrating, mind-boggling, wonderful, and nerve-racking teaching there. It's also been sweet and heart breaking.
Let me tell you about Maurine. Maurine has coffee-colored skin, dark, almond-shaped eyes, and a sweet, shy smile. She is polite and quieter than most of her peers in the preschool. As the first-born of the family, she is expected to look after her brother and three sisters, walk to the mill to grind corn, collect firewood, wash clothes, clean the house, and fetch water from the river in a heavy ceramic pot she carries on her head. After two years of preschool, she knows her alphabet inside and out, can read and write several words, and do simple addition. She is ranked first in her class of forty. She and her parents hope she can attend primary school someday. At present, it doesn't seem likely. There are no free public schools in Kenya . To help the poor children of the neighborhood, Betty started her own preschool in the tiny mud church in the family compound three years ago. Of her forty students, only five can pay these fees. Two others bring an occasional chicken or bag of beans. The rest rely on Betty's good heart. But that won't get them past preschool. The local primary schools cost three times as much and strictly turn away those who can't pay fees or buy uniforms. When Betty has no money to buy food for her own family, she reluctantly sends the kids home to collect late payments. Maurine knows her parents can barely afford food - school fees are out of the question. But like many others, Maurine will head down the dusty road and around the bend. Then she will squat by the roadside and wait ten minutes before returning. My dad is on his way, she says. Betty knows she won't get payment from Maurine. She will teach her anyway. But Maurine has mastered the preschool curriculum. Primary school seems impossible and time is running out. Maurine is already eleven years old. Maurine is one of fifteen neighborhood children that Betty would like to send to primary school: hard-working, enthusiastic kids who want to learn but can't pay the fees. Fourteen of these children have parents and guardians like Maurine's - people who dream of sending them to school and breaking the family cycle of poverty.
Now let me tell you about Cylas. His skin is darker than Maurine's, although it is hard to tell because he is usually covered in dust from his runny nose and oversized faded blue sweater to his bare calloused feet. Even his friends will tell you that Cylas is a troublemaker. He is constantly being reprimanded for hitting, shouting, running, and throwing things. He was kicked out of his previous preschool for fighting and stealing. His father thinks school is a waste of time; his mother doesn't have much to say. Indeed, his parents don't bother much with him at all, as long as he tends the cattle, looks after his siblings, and fetches water. He's lucky if he gets one meal a day. When Betty invited him to attend her preschool, the neighbors shook their heads and warned her, "Keep a big stick handy and use it liberally. He's used to beatings at home; it's the only way to get his attention. Not that it's much use - he'll be in jail before long..."
But let me tell you a little more about Cylas. He has never missed a day of school, even when he's sick. He's the first one there every morning. By the time Betty arrives, he has stacked the pews and swept out the little church with branches. He arranges the room neatly and has the other children clean up outside. When he catches sight of Betty, his whole face breaks into an enormous dimpled grin. He races to hold her hand and help carry her bags. When a visitor arrives at the preschool during break, he runs to get her. If the visitors are new parents, Betty will come to talk to them about the school, only to find that Cylas has already briefed them on the rules, uniform, fees, supplies, and 6 kg of maize each student it supposed to contribute.
Because the school has no doors or windows, the chalkboard, straw mats, notebooks, and pencils are kept locked in a nearby hut where Betty's nephew Jackson lives. One morning Betty was out walking through the compound at sunrise and was surprised to find all of the supplies stacked outside Jackson 's door. When she asked her nephew about it, he explained sheepishly, "Every morning this little kid in a blue sweater comes banging on the door at an ungodly hour, asking for the preschool stuff. I just wanted to sleep in for a change."
I don't know where Cylas gets his enthusiasm. Everything he does, he does with his whole heart. When he sweeps, the dust clouds fly up around him. When he fetches water to sprinkle on the mud floor, he runs back from the well so eagerly that the pitcher is half empty by the time he arrives. When the teacher asks a question, he raises his hand so high I fear he will dislocate his shoulder. When he sings in class, it is at the top of his lungs, and when he grins, he looks like he will burst with joy. He had to beg and plead with his parents to buy him a uniform, but he knows that's as much as he'll get out of them. For a while he tried Maurine's trick of waiting by the roadside when Betty sent him home for fees. Now he doesn't even bother - he just looks at her silently while tears trickle down his dusty cheeks. Despite the neighbors' advice, Betty never uses her big stick on Cylas. After months of patience and gentle explanations and corrections, Cylas fights much less and has stopped stealing entirely. He is learning slowly but steadily.
Most school programs will only work with parental support - someone needs to pay fees, buy uniforms and books, check the report cards, and help with the homework. Betty knows that. But she is haunted by images of what Cylas might become. She wants him to go to school, even if it means taking over the parental role herself, even though she has to struggle to pay school fees for her own children. "Don't worry," she says as we cook dinner over the fire, "I will be a serious second mother to Cylas." I believe her. She has already started coaching Maurine on her own time after school, in hopes that she will be able to skip first grade and start in second next January. Betty has carefully selected the fifteen children (none are related to her) she would like to help sponsor, and has already begun meeting with headmasters to make the necessary administrative arrangements. She will open a separate bank account and send me updates, financial statements, and report cards, as well as monitor the children's progress, homework, and supplies.