When Kenya Railway disclosed that it would construct a multi-million shilling secondary school in Voi sub-county to relocate over 500 girls whose learning was disrupted by the construction of Standard Gauge Railway (SGR), parents of the affected learners burst out in unprecedented jubilation.
Perhaps they celebrated too soon. Nearly six years later, this reality is dawning on parents whose joy has since withered into anger, exasperation and anxiety. They are constantly worrying about the academic fate of their children still learning in an institution that is relentlessly pummeled by deafening noise of SGR passenger and cargo trains hurtling past.
“We are forgotten. We feel abandoned. This project gave us hope of having a conducive learning environment for our daughters. That hope is all but dead,” says Juma Kombora, a parent. The despair and hopelessness in his voice is echoed by hundreds of other parents in the school.
Voi Girls, with a population of over 600 learners, is a low-cost school for girls from economically weak backgrounds. It is the only girls’ school in Voi town.
The relocation debate started in 2015 when the SGR design route showed the tracks would be too close to the school. The noise, dust and disruptions for the learners informed the decision to relocate the school to another site.
A fierce tussle ensued amongst leaders on where to build the new school. This triggered a delay that ended after leaders’ struck a compromise. They settled on a five-hectare land at Vindo area near Taita-Taveta University. The site was close to roads, water and power.
The works started in Feb 2018. The contract sum was for Sh 230 million. The project was to take 12 months.
Two years later, there is no end in sight in the long wait by parents. Due to the delay to release funds by Kenya Railway, the project lies in limbo. Other reports claim the project manager has left. The contractor is staring at a financial black hole of over Sh 70 million. In school, young girls are struggling daily to adapt to the ungodly din of trains rushing over the tracks day and night.
Other parents are blaming the noise and learning disruptions by the trains as a contributor to poor performance. Ms Irene Msagha says the noise is a great disruptor and learners cannot focus on their studies.
“The main reason why the new school was built was to get away from the noise. You cannot expect learners to perform with the kind of noise they are subjected to,” she said.
Mr Elias Mberi, county chairperson of parents, says they are appealing to Kenya Railway to release funds to the contractor to complete the remaining bit.
“Most of the work is done but the institution is still not habitable. The contractor needs to be paid to finish the project,” he said.
Reports show the new facility is 95 percent done. Still, crucial infrastructure including water and electricity are not in place. The administration block, eight classrooms and two staff houses are complete but lack electricity or water. Dormitory is complete. Ablution block is incomplete and the laboratory lacks piping and a gas chamber.
Voi MP Jones Mlolwa says the school should have been operational by now were it not for the inordinate delays in fund’s disbursement. He stated he would engage with Kenya Railways to ensure all funds were released for completion.
“I will seek an audience with KR officials on why they have not released money to complete the project,” he said.
Efforts to reach out to Kenya Railway for a comment on the fate of the project were futile.
Once the new school is complete, the buildings of the old school will be taken over by Kenya Railway.
However, as local leaders vow to push the corporation to release the monies, stakeholders have called for deliberations on the fate of hundreds of day scholars. Any unplanned relocation is likely to adversely impact on the education sector especially for vulnerable girls. The current concerns have emerged after views that the new school at Vindo might not be as easily accessible to day scholars as the old school was at Tanzania village.
Tanzania village is centrally located and is easily accessible while the new institution is located over 10kilometers away from Voi town.
Kenya Union of Post Primary Education Teachers (KUPPET) officials argue that there is a need for stakeholders to agree on how the learners will access the institution before it is opened for learning.
Mr Shedrack Mutungi, Executive Secretary for Kuppet, warns of a risk of high drop-out rate if the new school is opened without due regard for day scholars who formed the bulk of the learners in the institution.
“The boarder students are safe. Our concerns should now go for day scholars who already walk long distances to get to the school. The new school is even farther. How to get there for young girls should be addressed before the final relocation,” he said.
Owing to the distance, one of the proposals would be for the new school to be converted into a full boarding. There are also plans by Voi National Government Constituency Development Fund (NG-CDF) to construct a low-cost girls’ day secondary school in Mwamunga Primary School