Immersion Programme: ‘I realised how similar and connected we are’

Charlie O’Brien is a Transition Year Student at Blackrock College, Dublin. He travelled to Machakos County, Kenya in February 2020 with other Transition Year boys as part of the Aidlink Immersion Programme. 

Recently I, along with 26 of my peers from Blackrock College were lucky enough to travel to The Holy Ghost School in Machakos County as part of the 2020 immersion project, along with Anne Cleary, the CEO of Aidlink.

We arrived on Sunday morning in Nairobi Airport, from there we drove to Sultan Hamud, which seemed worlds apart from Nairobi. It was clear to see the development of the capital city had not reached outside of it, for example, as soon as we left, it struck me how there was no sign of any new buildings or any buildings that looked to have modern structures or techniques.

On the first day of school, we arrived at 8:30, and off the bus we were greeted by boys in traditional Maasai clothing singing Jambo Bwana, a much loved Kenyan song.

We entered the chapel for a welcoming ceremony, which was really special. Afterwards, we gathered in the courtyard as we waited for our specific prefects to bring us to our designated classrooms. I was put in form 4, the equivalent of sixth year, with the ages ranging from 16-22. The boys were more than welcoming and had a keen interest in our “party lives” back home.  Their curriculum was very similar to ours, swapping Irish with Kiswahili. Sitting in on geography, maths and biology, it was clear to see how similar the topics we learnt were, covering the location of industries, genetics and the infamous -b formula and quadratic equations.

The welcoming nature of the school staff, boys and teachers provided us with the opportunity to bypass any nerves and get stuck in to school life and learn about Kenya and its culture. What really surprised most of us was how energetic they all were in regards to school, even if they are waking up hours earlier than us every morning. This really hammered home the point that they view education as a privilege, not as a right, and a way to break the cycle and open doors for their future.

As I was put in form 4, all of the boys were preparing for their K.C.S.E, the Kenyan version of the Leaving Cert. The subjects being covered varied from agriculture to physics. The aptitude they have and the want to reach their full potential shows just how impactful the Machakos programme has been and continues to be.

We not only attended school with the Kenyans, we also took part in extra-curricular activities, such as football, volleyball and of course, rugby. The results varied but improved, going from a 6-0 loss to a tighter 4-2. A loss against a primary school and a draw against the girls’ primary school highlighted how our talents lay in different areas.

We decided to play the Kenyans in a game we thought to be more even, rugby 7s. However, as many of us on the trip happened to be forwards, it wasn’t as even as we expected, yet we managed to scrape a 5 all draw. This series of extra-curricular activities was a real highlight for me on the trip, and allowed us to gel with many of the lads, and hopefully vice versa. Every afternoon was fiercely competitive, yet with laughter all over the grounds. From both school and sport, I realised how similar and connected we are, and we were connected by far more than what separates us.

Sport was not the only thing scheduled for us, however. An afternoon of entertainment, both Kenyan and Irish, ranged from singing, a guitar solo, beatboxing and a Kenyan play. The afternoon was thoroughly enjoyed by all, as renditions of Molly Malone, Wonderwall and Country Road rang out.

One of the guys I was speaking to said something that stuck with me and something I think I will remember for many years to come. “Not only have you helped us build a school, you have helped build a future for me, my community and my country.”

Along with attending Holy Ghost School Sultan Hamud, we also ventured into the Maasai Mara and visited various primary schools run within the community. The organisation running alongside the primary schools was the Girl Child Network. In my opinion, this is one of the most important systems that we experienced. They are working to improve the rights of children in the communities, but especially that of girls. One of their largest projects is to bring an end to Female Genital Mutilation, which has now been banned by the Kenyan government. The work this organisation is doing with the help of Aidlink is amazing and vital.

The reach and impact Aidlink has had is extremely apparent when in the communities, or talking to the inhabitants. They are welcoming, friendly, interesting and genuinely lovely people. The mutual respect between Aidlink and the people whom they provide the means to improve the lives of their families is heartwarming and shows how much respect and praise everyone involved in Aidlink deserves.

Charlie travelled to Kenya on the Aidlink Immmersion Programme in February 2020. Charlie is a Transition year student at Blackrock College, Dublin. 

Join Charlie and the rest of Blackrock College as they fundraise for Aidlink and Cystic Fibrosis Ireland as part of the Rock Run 2020. Click here for more.