When I first visited the primary school in Gukipimo I thought, “Wow, this place looks like it came straight out of one of those sponsor a child ads on tv.” Of all the schools we are working with, Gukipimo is the one in most dire need of infrastructural development. While the primary school has the two most fundamental aspects of a good school – hardworking teachers and plenty of curious students – it’s missing lacking pretty much everything else. Half of the school’s classrooms don’t have walls or paved floors. Five students cram into one makeshift desk designed for two children. The chalkboards are cracked and faded. And the only space for nursery school children is in a dark mud hut room with two lonely windows through which the sun weakly spreads across the overcrowded class of kindergarten-age children.

A large part of Gukipimo’s problem comes from the fact that they are not yet registered as an official public primary school, meaning that they receive no money from the government.  Yet, the officials of the school have been hard at work trying to get the school recognized by the government. Their first break-though came when the ministry of education assigned a government-employed head teacher to the school at the beginning of this term. From the first time I met Tamwi, the new headmaster, I knew that the school had the potential to develop quickly. As we walked through the half built mud classrooms of his new school Tamwi focused on his plans for improving the infrastructure and gathering supplies by applying for outside grants and enlisting the support and donations of the parents. I was excited when he told me that he had already raised enough money from the parents to build walls for the classrooms that had only a tin roof providing shelter from the elements.

Yet, as encouraging as all these developments were, Tamwi was very concerned about the quality of his teachers’ work.  No doubt, the teachers were doing a great job considering the meager resources they were working with, but it was very hard for them to prepare their lessons properly due to lack textbooks and teaching guides. Thinking that they probably had enough books to tide them over until the government could begin to send them funding, I assured Tamwi that I would be happy to help him process the registration forms as quickly as possible. After all, I explained, the teachers could accommodate for the lack of books by adjusting the way they taught their lessons. That’s when Tamwi gave me a reality check: Gukipimo had absolutely no books of their own. None. Instead, they relied on borrowing second-hand, outdated copies from neighboring schools. And although Tamwi was working very hard to push the school’s paperwork through the ministry bureaucracy, it was doubtful that the school would receive any funding for the next year. In the meantime, the teachers were struggling to keep their students up to standard with outdated and worn out textbooks.

I told Tamwi that, as a policy, Nuru does not just give materials and textbooks to needy schools. For one, there is always the danger that the government will further delay sending money to the school if it’s aware that they receive monetary support from a foreign NGO. Secondly, all of our Nuru programs focus on finding channels through which the community can improve their situation in the long-term through grassroots mobilization and organization, not handouts from wealthy wazungu (white guys). We needed to come up with a solution that wouldn’t hurt the school’s chances of receiving government money in the future and didn’t create dependency on Nuru funding.

As such, we decided to come up with a plan to get Gukipimo the books that they needed fast, but in a way that was fundamentally based on community contributions and support…