THREE students and one teacher from New England Girls’ School recently attended the Round Square Conference at Brookhouse School, Nairobi, Kenya. We speak with Freyja Lacey, Molly McNeil, Christina Smith and Mrs Kay Hiscox about their experience.
The conference was attended by 300 other students from the Americas, Europe, Africa, the Middle East, Asia and Australasia and had the theme ‘No existence without coexistence’. Who were the key speakers?
Freyja: Some of the keynote speakers included South Africa’s Professor Albie Sachs, photojournalist and activist Boniface Mwangi, environmentalist Dr Paula Kahumbu and presidential aspirant Hon. Peter Kenneth. My favourite speaker was Boniface Mwangi. He spoke on the topic Governance in Africa and was very eloquent and had some very interesting things to say.
I gather you were divided into groups and had to work on a service project?
Molly: For service day, I participated in the building of a library in a slum named Kuwinda.
It was the most eye opening experience I have had. It really showed me how poor the living conditions are in slums, and it really struck me how happy the kids were – who, even though they couldn’t speak English, wanted to play with us and have us read to them. The community got involved in helping to build the library, and some of the students, including myself, were asked into their homes and school/church to read to the children.
Christina: I went to the Dr Barnado Orphanage. We looked after an orphan baby for a few hours and also painted some walls.
Freyja: I went to New Life Home, a home for children whose mothers are in gaol or otherwise unable to look after them.
We were meant to build a playground, including a tyre swing and a rope ladder, but we didn’t have enough tools for everyone to help at the same time, and I felt we did not do as much as we could have.
There was also a bit of time for adventure … Freyja, you went white water rafting, I believe?
Freyja: It was great. We did the rafting on the first day and then raft building and team building the next day. Both these activities were a lot of fun and a great experience.
Christina: I went to the William Holden Wildlife Education Centre, where I visited an animal orphanage and went on a game drive to see the rare White Zebra and Mountain Bongo.
Molly: For adventure day, I went to Lake Naivasha, the place where Out of Africa was filmed, where we did a nature walk and saw giraffes, impala and other native African animals. The following day, we did team building activities at the same location, which was incredible. The adventure day activities were fun, because you got to socialise with other people attending the conference, and you got to know people from all over the world and work together to achieve a common goal on a small scale.
What did you all bring home from the conference?
Molly: It’s really hard to explain what the impact of going to the conference has had on me, without it sounding cliche! But it was such a great experience, and I’m so grateful that I was given such an amazing opportunity. The most important thing I, personally, have brought home from the conference is perspective, in regard to my own life and people’s lives elsewhere and what I can do to help.
Freyja: It is hard to say what the best thing is. I would have to say that the amazing people I met and the friendships I made are the best thing.
Christina: The activities made me realise that not all of Africa is Third World or underdeveloped; it’s not constantly in war, and it is not half as bad as newspapers and news shows report. Although some parts of the country are still developing, it is the people who have the least that seem the happiest.
Kay, tell us about Brookhouse, where the conference was hosted …
Kay: Brookhouse is an international school located on the outskirts of Nairobi. It is a beautiful campus, with impressive buildings behind secure walls. What impressed me most, though, were the students. They were confident, eloquent and concerned about the political and environmental issues affecting their country. The senior Brookhouse students chaired the forums and ran the small Barazza discussion groups.
Round Square is a worldwide association of around 100 schools which share a commitment beyond academic excellence, to personal development and responsibility. As an educator, what did you think the conference offered delegates in terms of personal development?
Kay: The students gained valuable insights into the issues affecting Kenya. I certainly did. They were also able to develop their confidence by sharing views with other students from different countries and gaining a greater appreciation of the differences between them. On our trips around Nairobi and into the Rift Valley, as a geography teacher, I was fascinated by the street scenes (very confronting at times) as well as the beautiful landscapes.
The contrast between rich and poor is very evident, but everywhere we went the people were most welcoming and friendly. After the conference, we travelled with two other Australian school groups into Tanzania – where we visited Gemma Sisia at the School of St. Jude, before going on an amazing safari into the Serengeti and Ngorongoro Crater.
This trip included a visit to a traditional Masaai village, as well as seeing so many different animals in the vast savannah. These experiences highlighted the theme of the conference of coexistence.
Thank you all.
This story was published in issue 61 of New England Focus