Kambe is a poor, rural area lying some 30 miles north of Mombasa, Kenya’s second largest city.
“It is a subsistence farming area, slightly bush type area, fairly hilly, where you will see lots of small areas of crops being grown, with cattle and goats wandering about,” explained Gordon Atkinson.
It was there that Gordon and wife Angela visited with their church from Northwich in Cheshire seven years ago, dropping in on a school which has become a big part of their lives.
After the church group began to support Timboni School, Gordon and Angela made the decision in 2012 that if this support was to become sustainable then they needed to start up a charity.
And that’s when Under The Mango Tree was born.
“We used the name Under The Mango Tree because when the school began in 2000, it started with the children literally gathering under the mango tree,” explained Gordon. “The community had no buildings, no classrooms, nothing.
“What we found in 2010 was a very humble school with a small number of classrooms.
“We met some of the elders of the village, people who had not been to school, but who had the foresight to understand that education was the best chance these children had of breaking that relentless cycle of poverty.”
We used the name Under the Mango Tree because when the school began in 2000, it started with the children literally gathering under the mango tree. The community had no buildings, no classrooms, nothing.”
What the couple saw was a community with very few resources, but a very determined understanding that education was a key to the future.
One of the charity’s first tasks was to build a classroom, raising £8,000 in the process. Under The Mango Tree is continuing that work by providing critical resources such as pens, pencils, books, classrooms and safe toilets.
They also pay the small wages of three nursery class teachers.
“Without this funding, many nursery age children wouldn’t even have the chance of starting school.
“What we found was that nursery teachers are not paid by the government,” added Gordon. “So the children would have to take a few pennies to cover the cost of their teaching and running the school.
“The school’s way of working was if the children did not bring those pennies they would be sent home. So we decided that we, as a charity, would cover the cost of the whole nursery school so that is three teachers and 90 children and we cover those costs, which is very humbling – it is £4,000 a year.”
Attendance rates for the nursery school immediately went up, as they did in the neighbouring primary school since the older children were not being kept at home to look after their siblings.
What started with nursery children under a mango tree has grown with Timboni School offering education to 300 children aged between four and 17-years-old. Some walk to school as much as five miles each day, each way.
The support is ongoing, however. Under The Mango Tree wants to raise more money to build another classroom and complete the infrastructure – something which will cost around £40,000 and several years to complete.
Gordon is a past member and Past President of the Rotary Club of Northwich Vale Royal.
Northwich Vale Royal adopted Under The Mango Tree as part of the club’s charity partner programme.
Gordon said: “The club has been really supportive and has directly funded the purchase of new desks, mosquito nets and sponsored a district grant to refurbish the kitchen.
“In addition to this financial assistance the general support and encouragement of club members for Gordon and Angela has been really valued”. There has been similar valued support from a number of other clubs in District 1180 (North Wales, Cheshire and Merseyside).
In a separate, allied project, the Cheshire-based club has been working with the Rotary Club of Bahari-Mombasa to secure a Rotary global grant.
The plan was to provide a solar power system in Kambe, with a dirty water catchment plant installed alongside.
Unfortunately the Rotary Club of Bahari-Mombasa was unable to commit to fully supporting the project so this project is not going ahead at this time.
There is much to admire about what this small scale project has achieved, with the school flourishing and growing to the point where it has become a focal point of the community in Kambe.
Personally, you feel pride in what you have done.”
Every day, women will come to the school bringing sticks for cooking, men will turn up to do jobs, and others will arrive just to have a chat.
“Timboni School has become a focal point for the wider community as something they can be proud of,” suggested Gordon. “Personally, you feel pride in what you have done, frustration that you can’t do more quicker, but that is always almost the case with charity work.”
“It is lovely to visit the school. When you go they are so grateful for everything you have done and they want to thank you.”
“But what they don’t understand is this is not a one way street.”
“These are very engaging people and you gain a lot of friendship and fellowship. I don’t believe in the concept of altruism.”
“Few of us do some things without getting something back, and you do get a lot back when you go to Kenya.”