Learning Lessons Out of Africa
PUBLISHED: 10:07 11 November 2009 | UPDATED: 23:50 05 February 2013
Learning Lessons Out of Africa
Learning lessons out of Africa
School pupils in Norfolk are learning lessons in life from African children, thanks to the passion of one woman. Cherry Crowley told Angi Kennedy why she is so committed to The Starehe Way.
In a deprived area of Africa, Norfolk teenagers are teaching crowded classrooms of pupils. But these 60 young people are not in Nairobi simply to help the less fortunate schoolchildren, it is the Norfolk youngsters who are on a huge learning curve. They are visiting the Starehe School to gain an understanding of its incredible student leadership programme, a way of successfully training the next generation of leaders with standards that would impress the most high-flying corporations.
Cherry Crowley is the Norfolk woman who has brought these students from high schools around the county to Africa. It is the most ambitious move so far in Cherrys growing commitment to linking the countys young people with those at Starehe. In the past four years she has become increasingly inspired and enthused by the project.
Now, after 32 years in teaching the past 10 as head at Flegg High School in Martham, near Yarmouth Cherry, a mother of three, has retired; but she has done so with a mission.
In the months and years ahead she is determined to develop The Starehe Way project to help many more Norfolk teenagers and to extend it across the county as well as further afield.
Breeding leaders has far-reaching consequences for any society and any country, irrespective of the starting point, she says.
Her involvement with Starehe began some years ago when a retired teacher and ex-colleague at Flegg, Roger Martin, told her about his visit to the African school. The schools assistant director, Kennedy Hongo, was coming to the UK and Cherry invited him to speak at a special conference that she had been involved in organising. The conference was part of the Fair Play initiative, launched by Flegg in partnership with Norwich City Football Club.
The title Fair Play was taken from the FA Fair Play league a bit of a clich but the criteria for the football scheme marries well with the sense of fairness and active citizenship that we are trying to promote during this project. It was also deliberately chosen to have an appeal for boys. Flegg High has a strong reputationfor peer support and anti-bullying strategies; pupils were trained by ChildLine, and Flegg was chosen to be ChildLines training school for the East Anglian region.
We invited Norwich City FC to affiliate with us to promote training across Norfolk high schools. Since then we have trained more than 30 schools in peer support and hosted eight conferences for the countys high schools. The conferences and the whole initiative help to train young people to think in terms of what they can contribute and how they can help others, rather than asking whats in it for them, Cherry explains.
However, in actual fact, they have all discovered that what is in it for them is a great deal more when the starting point is generosity towards others.
In 2005 and 2006, with sponsorship from the League of Exchange for Commonwealth Teachers, Cherry took six headteachers and senior school leaders from Norfolk out to Kenya to visit the Starehe School that she had heard so much about, and to see their unique style of student leadership.
On their return, they agreed to incorporate some of the skills and projects they had seen being used to such effect in Nairobi within their schools in Norfolk. The Starehe Way followed, as Cherry began to find more ways to emulate the successful African schemes in schools here.
So what is so special about Starehe? It began almost as a soup kitchen for destitute and orphaned boys back in 1959, providing 17 youngsters with food and shelter in two tin huts.
From these very humble beginnings, Starehe rose to become one of the most outstanding schools in Kenya, for academic results, extra-curricular activities and character-building.
Now it has almost 1,000 boys on its role, aged from 14 to 19 70pc of them are sponsored and is a celebrated success, repeatedly coming in the top three schools in the country.
The school runs on principles of truth, fairness, goodwill, friendship and benefits to all, with the young people running their own school and holding a weekly parliament where anyone can speak without fear of reprisal so long as they are honest and use the appropriate language.
We have found a unique style of student leadership in Starehe with no involvement at all now from the adults, says Cherry, who lives in Norwich. The boys operate a Leadership Training Centre where they train the next generation of leaders. Starehe Girls Centre opened in 2005 and shares the same philosophy and the same style of student leadership.
There is a strong sense of the family of the school, with older children caring for younger, even though they come from different tribes and backgrounds.