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News > Travel Award > Travel Award Winner 2022 - Ruby Owen

Travel Award Winner 2022 - Ruby Owen

Many thanks to Ruby for sharing her experience of teaching at Tumshangilieni Mtoto School, Nairobi, Kenya

I applied for the Sidcot Travel Award in 2022 and received the grant to travel to Kenya where I worked in a school in Nairobi for two months.

I had wanted to go to Kenya because although I’m half Kenyan and lived there until I was six, I had never experienced life there independently. I’m also interested in a career in teaching, so I was particularly drawn to working in a school. Through my aunt I was able to make a connection with the Tumshangilieni Mtoto School. The name means “let’s celebrate the child” in Swahili.

I flew to Nairobi in April and was greeted by two other volunteers, both from Germany. We lived together in a small flat on the school grounds, and mainly cooked our own meals. I became particularly good friends with the girl, Clara, who helped me settle into life there.

A typical day at Shangilia wouldn’t start too early. We would attend a staff meeting at 11 am with tea and bread, and from 12 we would help serve lunch and I would either I would either make my own or have what the kids were having as l like some Kenyan dishes more than others! In the afternoon we would give one-on-one maths support to assigned kids, working on maths problems that we had prepared earlier. I found it hard to engage one girl, Angel, as she had concentration issues, but getting through to her was so rewarding. We then helped with Maths, English or handwriting classes. I was with Grade 5, who were 11 and 12 years old, and the teachers sometimes had me lead lessons, invigilate exams or help with marking, which really improved my leadership abilities and confidence. At around 4 pm we would unlock the school’s very own skatepark for the kids to rollerblade or skateboard, or they would have basketball practice or football matches. I introduced dodgeball, which everyone loved.

We had Thursdays off and relaxed weekends, so I could visit my family in Nairobi, and we also made new friends who helped us enjoy what Nairobi has to offer. We even visited the Nairobi National Park on Clara’s birthday and all kinds of amazing wildlife. I had been to many places with my family but others were new to me as Nairobi has grown so much since I lived there, so I was able to fall in love with the city in a completely different way.

My main aim had been to share my music experience with the children, so I made my connection with the director of music, Teacher Ken. I started piano lessons and had around ten regular students. I also joined the school’s band practice with my trombone. One event that I will really treasure was when I accompanied the children to the Day of the African Child parade, where our school was part of the marching band and we walked 5 km along a the main road and finished at a school performing arts event. It was so memorable and I was really proud of our kids for leading the march.

I was also asked to assist with preparations for the Kenya Schools Music Festival, so I formed a 4-part choir and taught them a Kiswahili song “Maua Mazuri”. They performed it at the festival and came 2nd! I was so sad to leave after that, especially as the choir got through to the next round. But I was told later by Teacher Ken that he led them to 4th place at regional level and the band won one of their categories and got to the national finals.

Leaving the school was very emotional as I had formed such good bonds with the children and the teachers and matrons. One of the gardeners, called Sammy, was such a character and always had stories to tell me. He even had to read my leaving speech to the kids as I was crying too much to speak! I have stayed in close contact with my friend Clara as well as Sammy and a few of the teachers, who give me regular updates on the kids, who I will visit whenever I go back.

I’m very grateful to the Sidcot Education Trust for the travel award and I would recommend anyone thinking about taking a gap year to apply. I would try to do something that you will find worthwhile, depending on what your interests are. For me, that was teaching and sharing my musical skills. For you it could be something entirely different. If you have an idea, do lots of research and make use of any connections you may already have. Above all, don’t be scared to challenge yourself!

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