The Small Nursery School

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Memoir  |  House: Booksie Classic

Elusive sustainability in a small school.

There was a catch-cry from The Agency whenever I applied for funds or saw a need for a project that might benefit the rural folk of Arusha. The catch-cry was ‘sustainability’. But the trouble was, I couldn’t really hang my hat on the sustainability peg. Of course you have to be responsible and have acceptable, achievable outcomes, but there are so many intangibles that can make sustainability unsustainable. A prime example was the notion of a counterpart or co-worker. I had two and as part of The Agency’s sustainability criteria, I had to train them up so they could take over after I left. In reality, both were capable and well able to do the job before I came on the scene, what they were lacking was the ability to source finance and resources. They didn’t carry on after I left, possibly disappointing The Agency, but I was perfectly comfortable. Through our work together, they established new networks, and both went off in unpredictable directions but serving their people. Any project might have brilliant aspirations, but the real goal is to give as many people as you can, a hand up, to head off in a direction of their own choosing.

There was a small parish on the road to King’ori called Nkwakiringa. We called into the church to talk to the pastor about encouraging his parishioners to attend our environmental seminar, but the pastor was late, which was more usual than un! The sound of children singing took me to a back room of the building where a tall, lean woman was leading a class of pre-seven year olds singing their national song. Info: There’s a national song and a national anthem, which are quite different.

Entrance to primary school is at age seven and these kids were attending a chekechea – translated as preschool, kindergarten, nursery school, call it what you will. This teacher was untrained and unpaid, but the parish had pre-empted government policy which was shortly to announce that before primary school all children must attend a chekechea. The teacher herself, probably had a limited education and was simply doing her best to keep her charges amused and to teach them values rather than keeping to any curriculum. The kids were a sincere rag-tag lot but stood to attention to sing the national song to me while saluting – it would’ve melted anyone’s heart.

The teacher had heard that we were running environmental programmes and told us that she and the kids had a small tree nursery beside the water tap. Sure enough, they had about forty plants, all michongoma, a thorny hedge plant that was very popular as a security screen. By this time the pastor had arrived and he asked if we could help the chekechea, so I asked the teacher what was needed. She said she would like a blackboard, some chalk and perhaps some slates for the kids to scribble on. They weren’t a difficult ask, but I explained that they needed a small income to keep being able to buy chalk. I asked them if they wanted to enlarge the tree nursery.

The father of one of the infants had experience working in a tree nursery and he told me that they would easily sell all the michongoma and migrivea, silky oak, they could grow. From my stocks I supplied them the polythene tubing to make the pots, fresh supplies of seed, marram, a couple of sacks of sawdust, a watering can and a shovel. He and the teacher undertook to oversee the project and the kids would do all the manual work. I taught them my method of direct sowing instead of sowing into a seedbed and pricking out. Pricking out tends to put the seedlings under stress, especially if it becomes hot, also small kids handling delicate seedlings is a recipe for disease. The sawdust helps to hold in moisture and the marram-stones hold the sawdust in pace when watering.  

We passed Nkwakiringa on our way to other areas, so we were able to call in regularly, but we didn’t need to comment, they were progressing just fine led by the teacher and the girl’s father. He had listened to our advice and was raising a very nice crop. The kids seemed to be enjoying the experience too. The planting season came and the nursery was quickly emptied, and shortly after, some new forms for the kids to sit on appeared in the chekechea. I didn’t ask but presumed they came from the revenue generated by the seedlings. They had managed to salvage about ninety percent of the polythene tubing/pots and requested more seed so they could grow another crop the following season.

The handiness of the Nkwakiringa site proved useful to me because big noises from The Agency and the High Commission often wanted to visit somewhere to be able to say they had checked on my assignment, but they never had adequate time to go to the more distant sites. The kids did their bit by singing and melting hearts, plus the well maintained nursery resulted in cameras clicking raising the likelihood for further funding proposals to be looked upon kindly.

My arbitrary hope was that one person in a hundred might keep up an interest in the environment and tree planting. At Nkwakiringa, including parents, maybe a hundred people might have had something to do with the nursery project, so achieving my target was a bit iffy, however a number of families now feel secure because they have a stout, thorny hedge around their properties.  Maybe a kid or two will grow up remembering an old bugger showing them how to grow a tree, or teach their own kids the environmental song we taught. In twenty years, the silky oak will be ready to harvest which will put money into pockets injecting a little cash into a struggling economy.

No I couldn’t say the project was truly sustainable, but it fitted my own criteria just fine.


Submitted: February 19, 2019

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Add Your Comments:



Very well told, Moa. Excellent, my friend.

Tue, February 19th, 2019 2:02pm


Thank you Jay, much appreciated. Usianguke

Tue, February 19th, 2019 11:35am


You can never tell what the long term effects of anything will be, but with your time and enthusiasm, I'm sure you planted a lot of inspiration for growing things, Moa. Well written and a joy to read.

Tue, February 19th, 2019 8:28pm


Thank you Mama Hullabaloo. Exactly right you can never tell what's likely to happen and a good thing life's like that. I appreciate, as always your comment. Usianguke.

Tue, February 19th, 2019 6:10pm

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