Teachers learn lesson in joy at Nairobi's Ark School
By Tim Allan | Kenya in East Africa
SIM workers Mel and Sarah with children from Nairobi's Ark School. Photos by Emma Fuller, SIM Stories.
When Melanie and Sarah go to work each day, they are greeted with huge hugs and cheers.
Excited children, dressed in the sometimes threadbare uniforms of Nairobi’s Ark School, are thrilled to see their teachers arrive. They crowd around, eager to touch them or stroke their hair.
Sarah, 19, said: “It really makes going to work a joy. They could not be happier to see us – as soon as we get out of our taxi, they all rush up to us cheering and laughing. It’s lovely to see so many happy children at the start of the day.”
Mel, 43, added: “I’ve been here for a couple of months now and I have looked forward to going to work every day.”
It is a very, very different environment from the German schools the women are used to. Back home, schools are well-resourced, the buildings are well fitted out and there is room for children to play and exercise.
That is not the case at the Ark School, which was set up by mission workers nearly 25 years ago to serve a poor, mainly Muslim, community living in what is politely called an ‘informal settlement’ in the Kariobangi area of Nairobi.
The school now has about 350 pupils, aged from around three to 15. Each year-group is taught as a single group and it is not uncommon to have up to 60 children in a class.
Facilities are basic – the classrooms have a blackboard but there is not always chalk. Several children may share one desk. Power cuts are not uncommon and the water supply can be cut off without notice.
When Sarah wants to take a PE class, she sometimes has to use the dirt road outside the school, so local people often wander through – and some even ride their motorbikes through!
When Mel takes a music lesson, which the children adore, she has very few instruments for them to play, just a few recorders. The school does not yet have either a guitar or a piano.
Language can also pose problems. Mel and Sarah, who live on the SIM compound in central Nairobi, both have excellent English but German is their first language; most of the children can speak English, but some use local Kenyan languages at home and between themselves.
The women are teaching the children German, as well as their specialist subjects, but help out wherever they are needed.
Mel said: “Yes, it can be challenging at times and we both learn something new every day. The key is to be flexible and not to hold plans too tightly. We have the privilege of teaching these children in a Christian environment, even though many of them come from Muslim homes.
“They are being taught about Jesus and learning from the Bible. We cannot know what impact that will have on their lives but we pray for these children and their families. We might only have very limited resources but the joy of seeing how the children are developing and learning is worth the challenges.”
Mel and Sarah are also free to share their Christian faith, both inside and outside the classroom – something that is not always possible in Germany or other parts of Europe. The Ark makes no secret of its Christian ethos, insisting on regular Bible studies for children and staff alike, despite drawing its pupils from mainly Muslim families.
Sent by SIM Germany through DMG, Mel and Sarah have committed to serve at the Ark for up to a year. Mel, who comes from a town near Stuttgart, is taking an unpaid sabbatical from her teaching job in a children’s home. Sarah, whose family live near Frankfurt, is spending about six months at the Ark as part of her gap year between school and university. She wants to become a qualified PE and history teacher.
Sarah said: “I was speaking to one of the Kenyan teachers, who said the joy of working at the Ark came because it was not just a job, it was a calling. That is something I will take home to Germany with me and remember all my life.”
• For Mel and Sarah to continue enjoying their work and the environment of the Ark School
• For them to be good witnesses to their pupils, the parents and others they come into contact with
• For God to raise up more short and long-term teachers for the Ark School and other Christian schools
The Ark School is always looking for short-term teaching support or full-time teachers so if you feel God is calling you to this vital ministry please contact firstname.lastname@example.org as soon as possible.