At 100 years, Kisumu Union Primary School is probably one of the oldest schools in the county and the Nyanza region.
During the pre-colonial period, it attracted much attention and respect. Now, it is a perfect example of “from grace to grass.”
For this institution, there is not much to celebrate.
As clouds form in the sky, the pupils’ faces turn gloomy, not because they hate rains but for fear of facing its wrath in classes.
The pupils often crowd in a section of the classroom far from the windows, most which lack window panes. They would prefer the sun to the rains, though it also affects learning.
Established in 1918, the school is set to mark its centenary this year.
It is 18 years younger than Kisumu City, whose centenary celebrations in 2001 attracted East African presidents including Daniel arap Moi, Benjamin Mkapa and Yoweri Museveni. “Kisumu” is a white man’s corruption of the word “kisuma,” Luo for where hunger stricken people got food.
Kisumu Union Primary School sits on a five-hectare piece of land at Ondiek Estate.
Formerly called Komulo Primary School, it is now a forgotten feature in the city. Its name ‘Union’ was coined from the fact that African children were united in seeking education here.
Grace Onyango, elected mayor of Kisumu in 1965, and who won a seat as the first woman MP in 1969, taught there before plunging into politics. She taught there together with her husband, Edward Onyango Baridi. She says that at the time, the school was one of only a handful that were not run by churches.
“The school is one of the oldest, having been mooted in 1918 and started in 1919,” Mrs Onyango told the “Saturday Nation” at her Tom Mboya Estate home in Kisumu.
Mrs Pauline Apondi Aluso, one of the former heads of the school (1988 to 1996), says a majority of the school’s alumni are successful professionals.
“To the best of my knowledge, we have successful medical doctors and other professionals who passed through Kisumu Union,” Mrs Aluso says.
Mr Silas Odhiambo, an alumni of the institution between 1978 and 1981, says “it was a great school during our time. We are currently reaching out to other alumni to see how we can restore the school’s lost glory.”
Current head teacher Stephen Mbanda says the first African Archbishop of the Church Missionary Society, the late Festus Habakkuk Olang,’ and opposition leader Raila Odinga schooled at the institution.
Today, one is greeted by a defaced gate, dilapidated structures badly in need of renovation and a bushy compound. The classrooms are old and most lack window panes.
Some staff members are forced to use broken seats as the institution lacks enough furniture.
Mr Mbanda says when it was started, the school, which now has 17 teaching staff and three non-teaching staff, only admitted African elite children in Western Kenya.
“When the railway reached Kisumu in 1901, most schools were reserved for the white children and there was need for a school for African children,” Mr Mbanda says.
“We have a large tract of land, which we salvaged through the courts after some private developers tried to take a portion of it. But in terms of structures, we have a long way to go,” said Mr Mbanda.
He says funds through government capitation, channelled to the school at the rate of Sh1,420 per child annually, were not enough for infrastructural development as well as day-to-day running of the school.
“We have to pay for water and electricity, leaving us with minimal cash for other services including paying non-teaching staff,” he says.
Kisumu Union's Parents Teachers Association chairman Jeckonia Owino says the idea of centenary celebrations “had in fact slipped through our minds because of inadequate resources.”
He says they have numerous challenges “but we are doing all we can to keep the fire burning.”
Mr Mbanda says the school currently has about 500 pupils.
The school entered into an international exchange programme with Korea in 2013. Mr Mbanda says the programme is between Chungcheongnamdo Asan office of education, Asan Buksu Primary School, Onyang Yonghwa middle school and Kisumu Union.
“We usually benefit from learning materials from the Korean schools, including sporting kits that we share with neighbouring schools. This year, however, the county government took the items from the Korean officials,” added Mr Mbanda.