Reuben Mwambingu @reubenmwambingu
A congested path partly that snakes through Matopeni slum near Kongowea market in Mombasa county leads to a makeshift school. It is a sweltering mid-morning and nearby is graveyard. Beneath a towering sycamore fig tree, a roofing sheet-walled structure is jam-packed with pupils.
In the compound, some pupils can be seen scrambling for space on the few available desks under a tree. As the situation calms down, they struggle to pay attention to their class teacher, Mary Wangeci. The school is in a sorry state. Besides bordering noisy palm wine drinking dens popularly known as mangwe, the school compound is surrounded by open sewers covered with stinking litter.
This is Matopeni Early Childhood Education (ECD) School, the only institution for young learners at the slum. Area community head Julius Kanampiu says it was started to provide hope for slum children after it emerged that most of the children were getting exposed to drugs and crime. “The population of children was growing every year yet majority of them had nos school to go to. They would end up in the streets, begging money or engaging in crime,” Kanampiu says.
The community head says the school was born out of a meeting convened between few concerned parents and area chief. Wangeci, a trained ECD teacher, says 58 pupils from the neighbourhood were mobilised to form the pioneer class in 2011. The numbers grew fast and within a short time they had a class of 122.
Wangeci is virtually a volunteer in the job because most pupils come from poor family backgrounds. Worse, the slum dwellers have had to contend with recurrent outbreaks of waterborne diseases such as cholera and typhoid due to poor hygiene standards.
“We have so far lost more than 10 pupils. From 120 pupils now we have 109 pupils, after one passed on last month…. cholera has been striking this slum repeatedly because majority of local households have no toilets and answer calls of nature anywhere. We only have one makeshift pit latrine which is open and all these pupils have to share,” regrets Wangeci.
Despite its shortcomings, the nursery school has become a stepping-stone for pupils now being looked up to as role models. “Some of our former pupils are now in secondary school. My two children also started here and the eldest is a Class Eight candidate at Kengeleni Primary,” says Kong’ombe Mramba, a resident.
Matopeni residents are crying for help. They accuse political leaders led by Governor Hassan Joho of using the area as a vote harvesting ground during electioneering but playing deaf and blind to their plights. as soon as political season is over. “There is no politician in Mombasa who doesn’t know about Matopeni. Sadly, they forget us and our problems once they get what they want,” says Mramba.