A group of educational leaders from Burnley and Pendle have travelled to Nairobi in Kenya, after the plight of special needs students at risk of falling out of the educational system inspired them to try and make a difference.
Anne Marie Nield, Headteacher at Holy Saviour RC Primary School in Colne; her sister, Kathleen McKeating, the Headteacher at St John the Baptist in Padiham; and Dr. Julie Glynn, who is the Educational Therapist at both schools, have flown to Dagoretti in western Nairobi to work with children with special needs in schools run by a group of nuns called the Salesian Sisters.
Equipped with five suitcases full of Special Educational Needs (SEN) resources, the entourage had to appeal for additional baggage allowances from Qatar Airways to ensure they could take as much as they could for the schools, where they will be assessing the children themselves, setting up recovery programmes, and coaching the teachers to better cater for the pupils in what they are calling 'Mission Possible'.
"It's a last chance for some of these children," said Anne, who also thanked School Brands, an embroidering company based on the Lomeshaye Industrial Estate who provided embroidered t-shirts for the group. "We felt we could help find ways to meet their needs so that they can become successful learners and don't become street children or have to work."
In what is a real "local effort" according to Anne, the trio - who set off for Kenya on May 23rd - have also been joined by students Charlotte Boyd, who is a former Thomas More RC High School pupil now stuyding at Leeds Beckett University, and Julie's daughter, Isabelle Glynne-Shorthouse, who is doing her A Levels at St Christopher's in Accrington.
"We're so fortunate in the UK," added Anne, who has also spearheaded the group's fundraising effort. "If a child has special education needs school's are easily able to help them - we get the resources and the expertise."
Originally made aware of the students' situation in Kenya through Kathleen's connections with the Salesian Sisters, the group have also focused their efforts on gathering resources to help the large number of Kenyan pupils suffering from eyesight issues which - with the cost of an eye test in Nairobi representing the equivalent of 10 to 20 days' wages - continue to prevail.
"Loads of the children were listed as having eyesight problems, which is the first port of call with special needs," Anne said. "We've had lots of children donating their old glasses; we've had the lenses taken out so we can take the frames and get prescriptions made so they can have proper sight, which is a massive gift to be able to give."
Having raised over £6,000 already, Anne said the group are "overwhelmed by the generosity" shown by the local communities in Burnley and Pendle. "Kathleen and I both have schools that serve areas where money is tight, so for them to donate to generously, we're really touched," she added.
Keen to offer the children the smaller pleasures in life as well as potentially changes their lives through access to education, the group also ran a campaign to gather as many balloons as possible to take with them.
"Children over there don't have balloons, they're really expensive in Kenya," explained Anne. "They never get the chance to play with them [so] I asked the children to bring a pack of balloons in exchange for a raffle ticket for an Easter Egg, and we got thousands of balloons to take.
"It's the simplest of things, but the children will love it."
For more information on 'Mission Possible', head to their Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/Mission-Possible-Nairobi-SEN-trip-1862287164031262/?fref=nf and to donate to their cause, go to https://www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/ResourcesforDagoretti?utm_id=65