Harry and Lauren 1Obviously, with the coronavirus crisis and the closure of the school, some of our interviews may not seem quite as relevant now as they were when they were written.  However, we know that things will get back to normal eventually and the issues and interest shown by our supporters show will not change, so we hope you are happy that we continue to publish these personal stories that illustrate the many different and varied ways in which people engage with and support Educate the Kids.

Harry Hughes is a PE teacher in Dubai. How, I hear you ask, does a PE teacher in the Middle East get involved with a children’s charity in Kenya?  Well, it’s quite simple really…

“My partner is Lauren, Yvonne’s daughter (Yvonne, for those who don’t know, is the daughter of Maureen, the founder of Educate the Kids) and so I naturally came to learn about the charity and the work it does. When we first got together, she took me to Kenya and and I fell in love with the place.   She has obviously been going since she was a little girl so she knew the ropes and helped me fit in.

“We moved to Dubai about three years ago. I used to work in a challenging area in London, teaching kids from broken homes and with difficult family situations.  I miss that work, but it was perhaps a preparation for understanding a few of the problems that some of the Kenyan kids have and also knowing how teachers can help them.

“Everyone who volunteers to help Educate the Kids brings their own particular skills and experience. Given my background, I tend to lead on professional development with the school’s teachers and also, naturally, get involved with PE for the children.  When I’m there, I usually also teach a couple of lessons of PE.  

“The best way to approach PE in Kenya is to keep it as simple as possible. It’s about getting people moving and enjoying themselves.  We also teach them about how the body works.  It’s about having fun, re-engaging their bodies and brains. They are naturally athletic, more so than UK kids.  It’s partly their lifestyle – many walk a couple of miles to get to school – and also their natural athleticism.  Kenya, as I’m sure you know, has a reputation for producing high quality athletes.  

“They also love football and will play with anything – bottle caps, rubber bands or whatever they can find if they haven’t got a ball.  They are so creative with their play, again in a way that I think we’ve lost touch with in our country where so many children have smartphones, etc. For example, I remember we were walking through the village and I turned to Kombe (one of the ETK staff) and said, ‘there is nothing for them to do’ and he just said, ‘wait and see.’  Round the next corner there was this kid getting dragged along in an old luggage bag by his friends: they were having a whale of a time.

“On a previous trip Lauren and I sat in on some of the lessons, alongside Edward, the head teacher, to see just how the teachers go about teaching. We gave feedback on their performance, based on professional criteria rather than just opinion.

“There are practical issues which make teaching more difficult in Kenya in general and in the school in particular. The main difficulty is the large class sizes; they are massive compared to the UK. The average class in Kenya will be about 45-50 children, compared with c. 30 or fewer in the UK.  On top of that, there is the difference in ability between some of the children.  Because the selection criteria for the school is based on (lack of) income, there is a huge ability range and the teachers do an amazing job considering.  In terms of resources, the school is, in Kenyan terms, relatively well equipped and from what I see the teachers are fantastic.  Jolaurabi is one of the best performing schools in the area and this is as a result of Educate the Kids’ investment in teachers and facilities.  Everyone at the school really appreciates what the charity has done – and continues to do – for them.  And that applies whether it’s professional advice from teachers like me, painting a wall, donating a bicycle or, and this is what underpins everything, sponsoring a child.

“For me, personally, the main thing I reflect on is how good our lives are compared to theirs. When times are tough, we should realise we have got it pretty good.  When you go out to Kenya, you see the reality of just how difficult it can be for others and everything that we do to help Educate the Kids, not matter how small, can make such a difference to people’s lives there.  Once the crisis is over, we’ll be back and striving to make even more of a difference.”

Interview by Alastair Blair