The Ainsworth Primary School in Kenya's busy capital city, Nairobi, bustles with energy and activity. Currently, about 65% of students in the school are refugee children of Somali origin. After facing violence in their home country, they now suffer from poverty, restrictions on their freedom of movement, and limited access to essential services in Kenya.
For years, the Ainsworth School lacked a perimeter barrier, leaving these students exposed to strangers who would walk in, wander school grounds while class was in session, use toilet facilities, and disrupt educational activities.
The Head Teacher at Ainsworth School, Mr. Abdi, recalled, "Our school was not difficult to enter. As a result, members of the public would often use school grounds as a shortcut to get from point A to point B. While many of them pose no threat to student or teacher safety, there are unfortunately the occasional few who pose very real threats."
On a few occasions, criminals who were attempting to evade the police ran into the school carrying weapons. On other occasions some students were exposed to illicit drugs being sold near the school.
In recent years, trust between local Kenyan families and Somali refugee families has deteriorated making it difficult for parents at the Ainsworth school to work together to improve school safety. In response to these challenges, Week of Compassion has been working with the Ainsworth School as a part of the Church World Service (CWS) School Safe Zones (SSZ) program.
To ensure that the goals of the program are community-led, CWS hosted two sessions with teachers and parents from the school community focused on discussing these challenges and determining pathways forward. In these sessions, parents identified shared problems and needs around child protection. Drawing on this community-generated information, Kenyan and Somali parents worked together to advocate successfully for government contributions for safety improvements at the school.
This included the construction of a solid wall along the street perimeter of the building. Already, this wall has succeeded in stopping trespassers from entering the school and has freed teachers from having to act as guards at the school entrances. The barrier also reduces noise inside the school from passing cars and buses. Most importantly, community members are recognizing the school as a safe place that must respected and carefully maintained.
Despite this progress, a drought-emergency has been recently declared in Kenya and the wider region (see the featured video below for more on the drought relief efforts Week of Compassion supports). This severe drought is creating obstacles to food security in the Eastern regions of the country and making access to staples such as milk or butter increasingly difficult, even in the capital city. Consequently, for the students and families of the Ainsworth school, water access is becoming all the more precious.
Even before this emergency was declared, CWS installed two water tanks on the school grounds as a part of the SSZ project. These tanks improved access to safe water and sanitation for students and teachers. Sharifa, a 6th grade student at the Ainsworth School, remembers, "Before the project, we would go for days without water, and our school was filthy." Now, she explains, "thanks to CWS, we have enough water, and we wash our hands as often as we can."
There is more work to be done to ensure that the Ainsworth School is a safe place for students of all ages to learn and grow. But, thanks to your support, these students now have a more secure and sanitary school. When communities come together to address shared problems and are supported with necessary resources, real positive change happens and lives change for the better.