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Mercy Mission

Primary School Teaching in Mukuru, Nairobi, Kenya

My name is Magdalene Musau. I am a primary school teacher in St Bakhita’s. Our school is named after a Sudanese Saint who was a slave girl.

I have taught in this school since January 1999. Since then I have taught very many pupils. That makes me feel really ancient!

My day begins at around 7.15 a.m. When I enter the school compound, my work begins. My ministry involves more than teaching. Actually, the real teaching only takes 20% of my time. Our catchment area is Mukuru Slum – an area covering a few kilometres, built along one of the rivers going through the City of Nairobi. Half of the pupils come from broken families and several of them are orphaned. We have three school terms in our school year. Our school year begins in January.

A school assembly where two schools with over 3000 pupils currently share a compound as one school is under construction.

Whenever I get a new class, the first term will nearly be spent getting to know the pupils and them getting to know me. We start with personal grooming to environmental cleanliness. These children come from an environment that is really filthy. There is dirt everywhere in the form of pieces of paper, open sewers and crowded rooms which are hard to keep clear. Suddenly, they find themselves with a classroom, a desk and chair they can call their own. Most children do not know how to clean themselves even though I deal with fourteen to sixteen year olds. Therefore we start right from the beginning. Having a handkerchief, even talking about how to wash themselves, minding their own property as well as school property and keeping the class clean, are common topics. We talk about how to make decisions in an environment where they might be the only ones thinking differently. The children get a hot meal of maize and peas.

This is the most important department in the school: the Kitchen.

I ensure that there is a duty rota for bringing the meal, serving everyone and washing the bucket and taking it back to the kitchen. During the first few months this has to be supervised otherwise some pupils will go without food. It is one reason they keep coming to school regularly. At least they can count on this meal.


Much of my work is taken up in counselling and supporting pupils who have gone or are going through horrific experiences. Sometimes I may have to negotiate with their parents to see if the situation at home can change. At other times, though I just have to stand with them as it might be a helpless and hopeless situation. Even though some boys are in danger a lot of the times girls are more vulnerable. In my class this year I have twenty two girls and twenty boys.

Pupils reading and performing a cultural dance


Over the years some of the pupils that I have taught have come back while still in secondary school or in third level and given time to the pupils. They normally give extra teaching to the pupils on Saturdays. Remember that a lot of families have a 10 X 10 room for the whole family and so studying space is limited. The past pupils learn to give back to the community and mentor to the pupils. I have noticed that many of them would have gone through difficult times themselves. They do this for free and are happy to help. The learners know their situation need not stop them from excelling and changing their reality

We have had past pupils in universities, football, acrobats, artists, skills trainees and in many other fields.

Apart from working with my fellow teachers, I work with social workers who trace truants, do home visits to determine who needs sponsorship after primary schooling into either skill centres or in to secondary schools. Our school is under Mukuru Promotion Centre. Their office in located in the same compound as the school I work in. This office supports our school in many ways including sponsorships. Other stake holders include the Government which has employed about 90% of teachers. It is nearly three years since the government introduced free primary education which means more children are in school as a result. The government provides free text books and other stationary. We have a Mass at the beginning of each term and at the end. The social office sees to this by organising with the parish priest. Fire here is a common occurrence, therefore the teacher has to organise for humanitarian help for those pupils affected.

Staff at work in the office and taking a break in the staffroom

Ignorance is the greatest poverty I deal with in my ministry. I teach and believe that a lot of the pupils we have taught are different because some proceed with their education get training and get jobs eventually. They move on in life and live better than their guardians. They are able to move to better residential areas other than the slums. A good number have been able to get skills as in carpentry, masonry, mechanics, tailoring, hairdressing etc. A small number of them run small businesses.

With the scourge of HIV/AIDS more and more parents are ailing. Some of these children are in danger of becoming orphans. Recently I had a child whose mother had been bed ridden for some days. The girl was so thin you could feel her bones through the school uniform. She was not worried about her bones but her ailing mother. She is the first born and this day she just cried and cried. Her mother told her she was dying. I then talked to the social workers who went home with her to see the situation. The mother is a single mother and since she was taken ill there was no food. They brought her food until she was better again. I have encouraged her to go for HIV test. Hard as it may be, I have had to ask parents to do this other than see them die prematurely. Therefore sometimes we deal with poverty directly. There are times children are so affected by problems in class that one is forced to support the parent for the sake of the children or for them to remain in school.

My ministry relates with the Mercy Mission in as far as I eliminate ignorance, answer some immediate needs and deal with the very poor group in the context of the reality of the slums in Nairobi. Serving the poor was Catherine McAuley’s goal. We specifically look out for women or the girl child. I have noticed that when I assist a woman she helps make the studying manageable for her own child. It actually seems like one has to network with lots of stakeholders for the learning to take place.

Why on earth do people not know?
I don’t know and yet I do
Know why they go to school
For this reason I am a teacher
Often I have been proud of what I have done
Especially in ridding of ignorance
I at times feel like the apostles
‘All demons have obeyed me’

But my God my temper
Why again do they forget after hearing?
In order to be reminded?
Ah No! I am not able for this anymore

Today honestly Jesus
I am fed up
Where do I begin with them at all?
Go to Std 5 work? Oh gee!
What do they know for heaven’s sake?

Just lest one thinks that teaching has always been a bed of roses. This was a poem I wrote when I was confused and did not know what to do with the class. I discovered later that the class had missed a lot in the lower classes. We worked at weekends and during the holidays and it emerged to be one of the best classes. Tell me that is life with ups and down, highs and lows thank God!

Magdalen Musau rsm


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