The school that saves lives

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EDUCATION goes a long way and for one head teacher it has meant bringing the classroom over to Kenya.

Debbie Matthew (44) set up an Education and Rescue Centre in the district of Kilifi, Kenya, after a stint of volunteer teaching for street kids two years ago was an inspiration.

She said: “As a head teacher I’m passionate about kids and education and was really affected by what I found here. Without education the cycle of poverty will never be broken. The women and girls are especially affected - most are completely illiterate.

“We want to improve the community by supporting them develop the skills which will allow them to progress and not have to depend on aid.”

The swahili name for the centre is Badilisha Maisha which means saving a life and Debbie made it her mission to start up a project that could tackle some of the local needs by getting kids into the school system. The project also supports local mothers and grandmothers through a major income generating project, and is trying to get a community football programme off the ground.

Originally from Bridgend, Debbie was previously depute head at Riverside Primary in Craigshill, Livingston, as well as headteacher at Stoneyburn Primary and Greenrigg Primary. She went over to Kenya to become head teacher of a large school in Nairobi, but is now dedicated full time to the work of the Kilifi project. At an open day last month, the demand for the new centre was “overwhelming”.

Debbie said: “50 kids and their guardians turned up. We took 40, but due to lack of finance we had to reduce this to 25. We only take children who have never been to school and are never likely to get the opportunity.”

As well as providing education, Debbie provides a meal for the children each day as they are poor and hungry. The main struggles that the centre faces are lack of funds and resources. A recent major setback was when the school collapsed in heavy rains and wind. With no funds to make repairs, the number of teaching days was reduced to four a week, due to lack of funds for the feeding programme.

Debbie said: “My biggest concern at the moment is getting the shelter rebuilt and to make sure the kids are fed everyday. For many this is their only significant meal of the day.”

Currently supported by family and friends in West Lothian, the Badilisha Maisha Education and Rescue Centre charity is run at home by Debbie’s mum Irene Wynne, of Bridgend, and it was their fundraising that secured the land the centre is now built on. There are opportunities for volunteers to go over to the centre and help out and some local teaching students have already signed up to help with the work this summer.

For more on the work of the centre go to http://sites.google.com/site/badilishamaishaeducationres/