The Corner of Hope is a pilot started in 2010, located in New Canaan, an IDP camp in Kenya. Corner of Hope is unique in combining Montessori school with teacher training. Working closely with the community, it empowers both adults and children, building towards a more resilient community. Through the cooperation between Association Montessori Internationale and the Maria Montessori Institute, it upholds the pedagogical principles and practice of Montessori and delivers high quality education.
With Corner of Hope, the community was very much involved in creating the school for the children of the camp. Inhabitants of the camp have built the school and were trained to deliver education to the children. With the school as focus, the idea is to help the community cohere round the provision of a 'corner of hope' for children.
This is done by first providing a 'Montessori Children's House' for children aged 3 - 6 and then promoting the training of a hierarchy of teachers, made up from the women/men in the camp. The teachers become sufficiently well trained so that when they leave the camp they can continue to create their own Montessori schools, educational resources and materials from local sources in other places. Currently, the first group of teachers is trained in the Elementary level and this level will be added to the Corner of Hope school.
Montessori education relies heavily upon 'learning by doing’ therefore each teacher makes for themselves a complete set of teaching materials sourced from locally available materials. In effect, each teacher becomes autonomous and effectively creates 'a school in a box' that releases them from dependence on external agencies supplying teaching equipment. The local making of materials is a profound principle, it sends the message 'I can do it by myself if you will just show me how'. It engages the individual in creating something valuable for the future of the children; it creates the possibility of replicating, mending and replacing when needed. The cost of creating a vibrant and fascinating range of hands on, brain-based scientifically designed developmental materials is negligible given their longevity.
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Since starting in 2010, the project has developed to engage the local community fully in all aspects of the process. Construction, organising, teaching, sewing, knitting, carpentry, etc. are done by the residents of the camp themselves, with only a small amount of external expertise and with a focus on developing new skills.
With the objective of creating a school for about 500 children within the camp when it was started, over 600 children have passed through the school till date. The children are fed 2 meals at school and have uniforms, shoes and sweaters. When they leave to join primary school, they are admitted to Primary 2 instead of Primary 1 as they are see fit to be at that level. Teachers from other schools are often surprised to see how well these children do and have been visiting the Corner of Hope School to learn more about Montessori.
44 teachers from within the camp have been trained or are in training at 3-6 and 6-12 levels. 12 teachers are employed in the school, including 2 mentors. The other trained teachers are now employed in local schools in the city. Since the teachers make their own set of Montessori materials during the training course and leave with a full set when they finish, they can establish and start a Montessori classroom anywhere, which makes the project highly replicable.
A new school was started recently in another IDP camp nearby with similar processes, the community itself initiated the project. The school originally started with 15 children in 2015 and has grown to 80 children in one year. Work is ongoing with the community to make a provision for clean water so as to be able to feed the children. A kitchen, children’s toilets and simple housing for teachers are also being constructed.
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The school at New Canaan, Nakuru has been maintaining steady student numbers at around 100. The classrooms have been named after fruits and have all been fitted with new doors. A snack corner has been set up for the children for them to voluntarily come out of their classes when they are hungry or thirsty and sit down for a cup of porridge during the day. Also, two large water urns have been placed in the compound for washing up and cleaning.
The camp has been connected to electricity since mid 2015 and the new staff room has a tube light and 2 plug points. The workshop has been divided into three parts by partition walls and now there is a storage room, a workshop and the staff room. The little garden between the two classes of Phase I is now a thriving vegetable plot.
The school at Kisima, Njoro continues to grow with over 80 children now attending everyday. Unfortunately, due to a lack of proper sanitation and accommodation facilities in the area, teachers are finding it hard to live and work there. Plans are being drawn up for housing for 3 teachers, a latrine block for the children and teachers as well as a basic kitchen shed to start the feeding programme.
Quotations are also being reviewed for other maintenance work such a roof repairs, repainting and building the compound wall at New Canaan and classroom floor flattening, painting, window grills, etc. at Kisima. The work is scheduled for the spring term break in April.
The teachers and the community were really happy with the children’s progress and also with the reputation of the school. All the children (100%) who were taken for interviews at the end of the last school year had been accepted into the local primary schools - many without interviews. Apparently the parents have only to say that they are at Corner of Hope and the children are often placed one or even two classes ahead. Parents are eagerly waiting for the primary (Montessori elementary) class to start so that their children can continue at Corner of Hope.
In August, the school hosted Jules Layman and friends who were traveling in East Africa and were keen to visit. Jules has been teaching in international Montessori environments for over 30 years and is actively involved in AMI’s Educateurs sans Frontières. She created and runs a popular website (www.montessoriaroundtheworld.org) to enable people to assist Montessori programmes around the world that are in need of resources. She was interested in seeing how the school serves as a model for children in similar circumstances around the world. The group was very touched to see the work that is being done in the school. Jules said, “...it brought tears to my eyes to see these children in such carefully prepared Montessori environments, focused and engaged with the materials...great time and effort has gone into properly training the teachers and creating this program for the children and their families.”
The Yokohama Montessori School community in Japan donated shoes for the children of Corner of Hope. Coordinated by Ichiro Miyamoto, a parent, the shoes were collected, washed thoroughly, dried, and individually packed before sending them. The teachers were very happy to receive the shoes to be distributed.
The Austin Montessori School elementary after-school club voted to donate the largest part of their Christmas bazaar sale proceeds to Corner of Hope. The donation will be used for books and bookshelves to create libraries at both sites.
Module 4 of the Elementary Course took place in November 2015 and students are making steady progress with lectures, material practice and completing their charts and timelines. The Kenyan and Tanzanian students on the course have formed a close bond and work well together. Module 5 will start in April 2016 with a stronger focus on handmade materials.
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The Corner of Hope project is expanding onto a second site to allow for an extension of the age range to 14 and to accommodate a demand which now exists to take children from other neighbourhoods.
The self-seeding of a copy of itself in another IDP camp, by inhabitants who have moved on, is being supported and encouraged.
The essence of the model itself is being adapted and promoted for other locations. This work is at a very early stage with a project for Syrian and other refugees in the Netherlands.
This scaling up is possible because of the sustainable nature of the conceptual model, where Mentors, teachers and trainee teachers are developed in situ along with educational materials, furniture and materials. The pedagogy actually encompasses these aspects because they are a virtue as well as a necessity.
The initial project has been a success and becoming sustainable in its own right in perpetuity and without intervention. The growth to date has been organic and led by demand which mitigates risk. Analysis of the potential for scaling up is under consideration by Association Montessori Internationale as part of the strategic objectives for Educateurs sans Frontières.
Baseline information for the project was established at the outset and that information along with year on year monitoring is available. The status of the project now as a mature and sustainable model provides the opportunity of designing a ‘baseline model’ for future programs based on experience.
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