The first night in Kenya, I broke Fr. John’s guidelines for tent management – for ease of access I had left my tent flaps open during the day – as a result mosquitoes gathered and a scorpion snuck in without me knowing it! I sprayed the mosquitoes and went to bed. Later that night the scorpion scampered across the floor, between my legs, caught in the light of my torch. I was in a state of shock, having been told
how painful its sting can be – I used some implement (I can’t remember what!) to usher it out the tent but not before it led me a merry dance round the tent, hiding under items lying on the floor. And I had to get the bottom flap open while holding the torch and watching that it didn’t get me first. After several attempts I whooshed it out the door and tried to get back to sleep, dreaming of scorpions coming at me. ‘Regime Change’ happened in ‘Camp Sleeman’ the next morning -flaps closed and hiding places reduced to a minimum. I related my story the next morning at breakfast so the rest of the Ken Crew and we were all duly warned of the folly of ignoring our leaders cogent advice.
You will be relieved to hear, that since then we have been taught to use a cup as a more efficient way of dealing with scorpions. I have one on standby to cover it before releasing it back to the wild.
This land supports the greatest number and variety of vertebrates in the world – giraffes, elephants, lions, baboons, monkeys to name a few – we are fortunate to have seen several of them – giraffes, elephants, baboons but it is the birds that have caught my attention. There is a seemingly infinite variety where we are – they are everywhere. Some are exquisitely coloured. As I write, sitting outside my tent, three to four species visible or audible. My constant companion is a woodpecker who pecks at the same tree, all day looking for insects under the bark.
The other thing about these birds, is that unlike the big five which most people are desperate to find, the birds are unafraid. I imagine that we humans, the main predator of this area, have ignored these smaller creatures in favour of the big five.
And I have no need to wear a watch or set an alarm – the birds do it for me especially the ibis. The one that flies over my tent is a big, goose like bird called the Hadada Ibis. They pass over like clockwork – 6.30am and 6.15 pm. The bird book I found here describes them as “very, very noisy, most often heard at dawn and dusk calling a varying bugled and onomatopoeic haa haa ha-aaa with the last notes downslide.” That is a good description and I can hear them heading my way now! And that reminds me that I need to get these few words to John or I will be in more
All is going very well and your sons doing you proud.
This comes to you from the spacious veranda of Lale’enok Resource Centre, on Friday, 21 July. The sky is a cloudless blue, the air warm and filled with varied birdsong and the view is one of dried earth, numerous elegantly formed acacia trees and many scraggly bushes. The ‘Kenya crew’ has just come back from a hike up the western escarpment of the Rift Valley and are relaxing and rehydrating. (I am on my fifth litre of water today!) We should be in school but, for reasons associated with the imminent Kenyan elections, we got a ‘free day’ today to, paradoxically, ‘chill out’.
Last Friday night, when I left you, we were preparing our trip to the Shompole Group Ranch Conservancy area. Up ‘dark and early’ we headed out at 6am and reached the swamp by 7:30. We saw wilderbeest, giraffes, a Goliath heron (the world’s largest heron), Egyptian geese as well a young kudu and some Grey Crowned Cranes with exquisite head colouring and feathers. Lions are commonly spotted in the area as well as an elephant with one tusk, though we didn’t see them. A second purpose of the trip was to visit Oloika School. It has only two proper buildings; the other classrooms are just corrugated iron on cement floors. It is high up, hot, windswept and barren. It is clearly greatly in need of help. One wonders why the highly salaried government officials (among best paid in the world) don’t spend some money here! We didn’t indicate the purpose of our visit but were well received. This school broadens our knowledge of educational facilities in the area in case Glenstal would ever want to organise another ‘Kenya crew’ project, alone or in partnership. The hot weather (approx.30 C in the shade when we visited) and the distance from Lale’enok (20kms over sand tracks) would present challenges.
On leaving we spotted the Chinese ground pegs indicating their future oil field and headed to ‘Shompole Wilderness Camp’ on the Ewaso-Ngiro river (‘brown water’ in Swahili), downstream from Lale’enok. It is run by Samanth du Toit and her husband and caters to international groups of well off nature lovers and photographers.
Sunday, the boys say, was marvellous. We just had Mass with visitors of various Christian denominations, presided by Fr Simon, and relaxed, caught up on sleep, played cards, toyed with the idea of a swim but instead visited a Maasai village (‘manyata’) and had a campfire dinner under the stars of the southern hemisphere. The Maasai straddle two cultures. Their roots are in their pastoralist lifestyle looking after cows,sheep and goats. Each species has its own pen in the ‘manyata’ (homestead) and various human generations also live there, each with its own access point, in a markedly patriarchal society. But they are also acquiring some benefits of modernity such as veterinary medicines, mobile phones and motorbikes. Their culture is under strain, not least from climate change, and one wonders how they can keep the best of it and yet benefit from the modern world.
On weekdays the Crew continued teaching computer skills, in this sequence: turning on a computer and using a mouse on day 1; Paragraphing and Wikipaedia (one boys discovered the sea!) on day 2; Saving & Filing on day 3; Formating and typing their I.D. etc on day 4; doing Inserts of pictures, charts as well as copying and pasting from Wikipaedia on day 5; using the computer camera on day 6; using the Tablets on day 7 (not so useful as a laptop we believe) and, always, Games which make them feel at home with a laptop. The crew works very well and relates very well with the young Kenyans inside and outside the classroom. Fr Simon gave a class on Genetics which was a marvellous introduction for many here to the fact that one can believe in a God who is the ultimate origin of creation as well as in the theory of evolution. Very many people here think these are mutually exclusive! I delivered a lesson on the varied kinds of writing in scripture, and that Genesis 1 is not to be taken literally, but metaphorically/symbolically. (I can prove that.)
The food is just great, with eggs (protein) in some form every morning. Hot lunches such as pasta or meatballs, as well as salad, brought to Olkiramatian most days. Our target is to drink between four to five litres of water a day. All are well though we did slip over to Magadi hospital on Wednesday to get medicine to counteract the venom of the Nairobi fly and skin infections that can arise from our change of temperatures.
During the week we have been able to incorporate three visits to additional local areas. We went to Patterson’s Seconday school, near Olkiramatian, for our now annual soccer game. The team played excellently despite the high bounce of the ball on the hard and uneven ground and the consequent different timing for kicking it. Though fast the light-weight Kenyans could also be kept from the ball, when required, by our heavier guys. Aran Egan scored all the scores of the game, four, which was impressive, though my pleasure was the lack of injuries. We also went to Mount Carmel Private Primary school. It is on a beautiful hilltop and has, according to the boys, the most charming young people we have met to date. Again, conditions are deplorable. They have hardly any books, no footballs etc.etc. Finally, we went to the local Maasai market, I was not there but the boys say it was not worthy of note. So, I’ll end now and write towards the end of next week. Thanks for reading!
Fr John OSB
P.S. Allow me give credit for the first photo of the Crew on our Toyota Landcruiser. It was taken by our driver, Arif Hussein, with the camera of Jack Wall O’Reilly.
It is with great regret that to-day we bid farewell to Ciara O’Toole, the school administrator. Ciara has been an exceptionally generous, competent and kind presence in the school and she is leaving us to pursue her dream of working with the ambulance service which is a great opportunity for her and a sad loss for us. We are so very grateful for her work here and we wish her well for the exciting future that is opening up for her. She will be much missed by staff and students alike and by myself in particular.
This ‘report’ from the south of Kenya is meant as a token of appreciation towards the very many people who have supported the ‘Kenya project of 2017’ in any way and, especially, towards the parents of the boys who on the crew, namely, George Downing, James Fitzgerald, Aran Egan, Ben O’Sullivan, Arthur Moore and Jack Wall O’Reilly.
The boys, as well as Fr Simon and myself, arrived in Nairobi (Swahili word meaning ‘place of cold water’) on the afternoon of Sunday 9 July. We passed a chilly but very ‘comfy’ night (altitude: approx. 1,500m) at the local ‘Wildebeest Eco-camp’ and off-loaded the fruits of months of fundraising to the director of Soralo (South Rift Association of Landowners) for the renovaation of Olkiramatian School. The next day we bundled into our 4 wheel-drive, hired from Bunduz, an excellent safari company (‘safari’ is Swahili for ‘journey’), and headed to the south of the Rift Valley. After a deep descent we made a stop at Olorgasailie Prehistoric Site. It is home to the earliest stone tools ever found and which were used by our evolutionary parents. They are 992,000 years old and shaped as cutting instruments that would be useful in killing animals, hiding them and cutting up the meat. The site is surrounded by dead volcanoes, the air was hot and the ground scorching. A group from the Smithsonian was there collecting scorpions. After a second stop to visit the P.P. of Magadi, for two hours though originally intended for two minutes, due to the pronounced nature his hospitality, we reached Lale’enok with night already fallen. The light of a full moon helped us find our tents and, some of the boys at least, erected their mosquito nets to perfection.
On Tuesday, the dawn chorus woke us to the truth that drought has extended to the south of the country, albeit it in a less dramatic form than currently being reported around Lake Turkana in the north. There is far less grass than usual and cattle, sheep and goats searching for scraps of green. A large part of the baboon population has moved out of the camp area. There has been a fall of only one and a half inches of rain since April and the next ‘short’ rainy season is in October/November. What will the animals and plants do, and the families who depend on them?
On Wednesday we were received with dancing by the young Maasai and Kikuyu at Olkiramatian Arid Zone School and had a first sighting of what our fundraising had delivered: the school chose to get cement floors for their nine classrooms and a room now fit for computers. Several latrines will follow. Afterwards we headed to Entasopia, home to the Kenya crew of 2016. It has a Special Education Unit for which I had long searched a donor. A Dublin family came up with the goods and now its rickety beds will be replaced by proper ones, there will be lighting system provided and a water supply! We were all devastated to see the wretched conditions in which those with ‘educational challenges’ beyond the norm have to live.
Thursday was our first day of school work. The boys established the routine of giving six ‘computer classes’ per day to the equivalent of Grades 5, 6 and 7. Each class is split in half. This yields an average of 22 young Kenyans in each group and means that each of the six Irish boys can tutor three/four at a time. They use computers purchased some weeks ago in Mombasa or brought by us from Dublin, all from funds donated. The last class of each day is ‘conversational English’ with Grade 8. On these occasions three pairs of Glenstal boys are grouped with about eight Kenyans each. Topics include their respective education, the Maasai culture, their lives today and tomorrow, etc. It promises to be very interesting.
Thursday also revealed a problem with China! They have established a camp near Lale’enok and drive their heavy trucks over the frail trails here to the latter’s detriment. Their plan is the drill for oil in the wildlife conservancy area!! Ironically we discovered that the Chinese solar power systems installed throughout the whole country, including the three schools with which we work, are flawed and more or less useless.
On Friday, another politically related fact came to light: thirty-eight tablet computers with Windows 10 installed and touchscreens, were found lying unused in a classroom! They were supplied by the Kenyan government to Olkiramatian and many other schools one month ago as an enticement to vote for the current governing party! There will be an election on 8 August next.
Now light has faded and this must go. Saturday is going to be full with a drive to the swamp near Lake Natron and a search for various wild animals. We have already seen many but more anon’. This Kenya crew is very good, so far anyway.
Glenstal’s 3rd Active Schools Week was again blessed with fine weather and gave everyone the best opportunity to enjoy some de-stressing physical activities at the end of the academic year. Throughout the week, 1st year students wore pedometers that tracked the amount of steps taken over the course of a day. KAPPA emerged with the highest average with 9,189 steps. It is recommended to get as close to 10,000 steps as possible, as this will mean you have walked 5 miles in one day. Interesting to note is that KAPPA had a PE lesson on the day they wore the pedometers. While this is a good sign for the day the students have PE class, it gives some food for thought for the days which they might not have a scheduled time for activity.
Every lunch time had an event scheduled which meant, after a quick bite to eat, the students and staff were on the move to the nearest event. Luckily, for all those in Glenstal, the fun and activity didn’t stop when the school day was over either, it only began! On Monday, last year’s main event, sumo wrestling, took centre of the atrium again. Titanic battles saw many peers and brothers face off in three rounds of frantic sumo wrestling. This provided much entertainment for the large crowd gathered all around. Monday evening activities included a Junior, Inter and Senior competition in Drop Goals, Puc Fada (long puck) and Cic Fada (long kick). This drew a great crowd to the pitches and some close competition in each of the events.
Tuesday’s lunch time provided students and staff an opportunity to take penalty shots at Mr. Adam Newman. Last year, after 70 penalties were taken, only 24 made it to the net meaning Mr. Newman saved 46. With a significant challenge ahead, students got to the hall early to prepare their penalties. This time, after 75 penalties, Mr. Newman had saved an incredible 50 shots and only conceded 25! After school, it was to the pitches again where the 1st years played out the final of their hotly contested soccer tournament while a variety of students from 1st to 6th year played American Football in an exciting encounter. In the soccer, it was the side captained by Liam Quinn-Berger that emerged victorious defeating the team with top goalscorer in the competition, Aboudi Al-Helaissi, as their captain. The 5th year students had their own soccer match going too as they prepared for their encounter with 6th years on Sport’s Day.
On Wednesday afternoon, the Bench Press and Deadlift competitions drew a large crowd to the gym. Some incredible feats of strength were demonstrated following the weigh-in which provided a most entertaining contest.
Thursday’s lunch time event was cricket bowling. With Aussie Gap Students, Austin, Mitch and Josh, the challenge was most difficult for our boys to bowl them out. Successful bowls this year came from Cian O’Farrell and Andrew Hogan. Thursday evening saw a surprise event come to Glenstal with the Gladiator Joust Castle: it provided all students on the pitches with hours of entertainment. Students used batons to knock their opponent from their pedestal in order to win their duel. Some scores were settled, rematches were had and even elements of revenge were witnessed! Once again, the water polo event provided some big laughs and invariably a water fight. All in all, it was a thoroughly entertaining afternoon on the pitches with students and staff all engaged in activities.
The annual ‘Staff versus Sixth Year Students’ soccer game took place Friday afternoon after class. Earlier that day, staff and 6th years ate lunch together with numerous people speaking fondly of their memories of the boys and their time in Glenstal. Officiating the game was Mr. Tony Breen and he kept a firm grip on proceedings so as to avoid tensions getting too high on the field of play. It was a tight affair but it was the teachers who scored first when Mr. Cathal Reid controlled the ball well in the penalty area, turned and tucked the ball into the right hand corner. The lead didn’t last long as within a matter of minutes Jack O’Mahony rattled a ball to the top corner of the teachers’ net. Matters got worse for the teachers as a ball behind the defence was met with a sniping Declan Floyd run. When he met the football, he lifted it over the onrushing Mr. Adam Newman and celebrated giving his peers the lead. Minutes before half time, Mr. Benny McEvoy levelled proceedings when some ping pong in the rectangle resulted in the ball reaching him. Benny make no mistake with the strike.
A draw game at half time meant a close second half was expected. That’s how it was until a flurry of goals killed off the student challenge. First, Shane Mullally netted with a powerful strike. Shane could have had another but he missed from the penalty spot after Mr. Kevin Duffy had been brought down in the penalty area. Mr. Aiden McNulty put the staff two goals up before getting his second shortly after to finish off the staff team’s scoring. The drama wasn’t just over yet as Jack O’Mahony won and converted his own penalty before the staff themselves were awarded another. This time, Mr. Adam Newman came up from goals to try and net the football but he dragged his effort wide. At the full time whistle, it remained 5-3 in favour of the staff. The students must be commended for the manner which they played they game.
Active Schools Week drew to a close and it was time for a well deserved ice-cream on the field once the game had concluded. All the award winners are listed below and well done to everyone who made this a fantastic Active Schools Week. Thoughts and plans are underway to make 2018, the best one yet!
On Wednesday 31st May 2017, in a letter to staff and parents, Abbot Brendan Coffey OSB, together with the Chairpersons of the school’s Board of Governors and Board of Management, announced the appointment of Ms Carmel Honan to the role of Principal of Glenstal Abbey School, with effect from 1st September 2017.
The role of school Principal was traditionally included in the office of Headmaster, and so, up to now, has always been held by a monk of the Benedictine community of Glenstal. Carmel Honan is therefore the first lay Principal in the eighty-five-year history of the school.
The appointment of a Principal to work alongside the Headmaster marks a change in the organisational structure of the school. The current Headmaster, Fr William Fennelly OSB, will continue in that role, with responsibility for strategy, mission, ethos, fundraising, development and the promotion of the school. As Principal, Ms Honan will lead the Senior Management Team, look after day-to-day school management, lead teaching and learning, and have overall responsibility for staff, standards, discipline, policies and HR issues.
When he announced the decision to re-structure the school in this way earlier this year, Abbot Brendan said, “We believe that this new structure will equip our school to face the challenges of the future with confidence, while maintaining a strong monastic presence at the helm.” Following an open competition and two rounds of interviews, Ms Honan was recommended by the selection committee for appointment to the role of Principal. In their letter to staff and parents, Abbot Brendan and the Chairpersons of the two school Boards said that they were “delighted to announce the appointment of Ms Carmel Honan to the position of Principal of Glenstal Abbey School”.
Carmel Honan is a native of Ennis, Co. Clare, where she was educated at Holy Family School and Coláiste Muire. After studies in NUIG, she began her teaching career in 1989. She was appointed Principal of St Flannan’s College, Ennis in 2012. She also holds an MA in Psychotherapy. She has previously served on both the Board of Management and the Board of Governors at Glenstal and is well acquainted with the school. She brings immense experience and knowledge to this new position and is looking forward to working closely with the Headmaster, Fr William Fennelly OSB.
The current 5th year group were always eager to play a few GAA games and they got their opportunity when Castletroy agreed to play a hurling friendly game in Harty Park, Murroe, on Thursday afternoon. A small panel of 18 players made it’s way to the field where at 1.30 pm, referee, Patsy Coffey got the game underway. Two passes and a speedy corner forward meant Glenstal were on the back foot immediately as Castletroy netted the sliotar. Long puck outs from Ben Healy meant Glenstal weren’t under consistent pressure as Conor Booth,Mark O’Farrell and Andrew Walsh were able to give the Glenstal attack some precious ball. Scores were scarce at first as Castletroy’s far superior hurling ability saw them soar into a commanding lead.
First half highlights for Glenstal included the stellar display at centre back from Mark Walsh, the searing and pacey runs of Mark O’Farrell, the overhead strike from Cormac McGann that sailed into the top corner of the net and another goal slammed home by Ronan Hanly. Andrew Walsh pointed from a tight angle and Mark O’Farrell contributed with a fine point of his own. That said, the half time score read 4 – 9 to 2 – 2 in favour of Castletroy.
The second half continued in the much the same fashion with Castletroy’s superior hurling keeping them in control. There was some fine play from both teams. Andrew Walsh scored twice from the stand side of pitch to keep Glenstal moving forward. Ronan Hanly’s strong running was beginning to cause Castletroy more difficulty in their defence as he scored himself and Conor Booth converted some placed balls. Mark O’Farrell continued to show excellent form and was rewarded when he scored a fine goal of his own. One of the game’s highlights came when Harry Boland whipped on the sliotar, golf style, sending it into the net. The ensuing celebration with hands and hurley raised to the sky told it’s own story. Unfortunately, it wouldn’t be a winning score as Castletroy ran away convincing winners. Their young team can look forward to competitions next year hoping to contest while Glenstal will probably focus on the oval ball once again! Well done to both teams.
Score: Glenstal 4 – 9 (21) Castletroy 9 – 15 (42)
Harry Boland Conor Booth Jack Clancy George Downing Aran Egan James Fitzgerald Mark Fleming Ronan Hanly Ben Healy
David Kelly Tilmann Koenen Cormac McGann Arthur Moore Conor O’Brien Mark O’Farrell Patrick Prendergast Andrew Walsh Mark Walsh