Part 2: The Starehe Of Our Time
A True Story
on Dec 1, 2020
Although Starehe Boys' Centre was a great school here in Kenya during the era of Dr. Geoffrey Griffin, its founder, the institution had its share of challenges and imperfections as I hinted in my previous story on this blog. There were cases of theft and student misdemeanours during our time in the school. When I was in Form 1 at the school for instance, I remember hearing of a hot-tempered student who in a fit of rage sank a pointed object into another student's face. The case reached Dr. Griffin but I was not curious enough to follow up on what happened to the hot-tempered student.
Then when I was in Form 3 in 2004, we entered our classroom one morning only to find out that it had been raided by a gang of thieves the previous night. The gang stole our textbooks and one of them defecated on the floor of our classroom. On hearing the news, the school administration swiftly conducted an investigation to find leads on who could have committed the heinous crime. Our classes were interrupted that day as some staff members and senior prefects ransacked our lockers in an effort to trace the thieves. During the investigations, a couple of my personal books were found in the locker of a certain prefect who happened to have been my housemate. I was informed about it.
While I didn't get to know if the thieves were caught and brought to book, I vividly recall Dr. Griffin boasting that his administration had recovered some of the stolen books. And I heard through the grapevine that the leader of the gang of thieves that raided our classroom was an old boy of Starehe. So it seems not every former student of Starehe practises Dr. Griffin's maxim that "if you are given a cup of coffee to wash, wash it cleaner than any other cup ever washed before".
And then during my years as a third-former and fourth-former at Starehe, someone used to routinely steal from my box where I kept my things in our dormitory. My box could be locked with two padlocks. Initially, I used to lock my box with only one padlock, but when I realized someone was accessing it on one side to steal my stuff, I added another padlock, thinking the box was now safe and secure. But alas! Soon after I added another padlock, the thief cut through the metal holding the second padlock and continued robbing of things from my box.
I came to suspect the thief who routinely stole from my box was the prefect in whose locker were found my books during the investigation that was carried out that time in 2004 after a gang of thieves raided our classroom. But I didn't act on my suspicion till one time as my high school years at Starehe were coming to an end.
That time, when I found my box had been pilfered again and one of my books was missing, I went to the prefect and cleverly lied to him that someone had informed me he had my book (the one I had found stolen in my box). Guess what! The prefect immediately retrieved the book from his pile of papers and handed it to me, thus making me confirm he was the guy who had been stealing from my box. I however didn't put him to task over the issue that day as I was in a good mood.
Around that time I confirmed the prefect was the thief who had been stealing from my box, someone broke into my locker in the Study Block - the building where fourth-formers had their preps - and walked off with my Oxford dictionary and some other personal books of mine. When I found my Study Block locker broken into, my prime suspect for the theft was the prefect who had been stealing from my box in our dormitory.
Unable to stomach his constant raids on my properties any more, I cornered the prefect one night outside our dormitory and angrily accused him of having been stealing from me as some housemates looked on. The prefect felt embarrassed and melted away from the scene without uttering a word. Shortly afterwards, I reported him to my house captain. I didn't get to know if the captain took any action against him. All I know is that the prefect was not accepted to join Starehe Institute in 2006, which in my opinion was a wise decision.
My dear reader, such was the kind of life in Starehe during our time. The school, as you can deduce for yourself, was not the kind of paradise that some primary school kids imagined it to be. Those challenges and imperfections notwithstanding, Starehe was still a great school which remains dear to my heart.
RECOMMENDATION: If you've enjoyed this story on part 2 of Starehe of our time, you might also enjoy another one I wrote two years ago on "My Encounters With a Legend". Just click on that link in blue to dive straight into the story.
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The Starehe Of Our Time
A True Story
on Nov 26, 2020
My younger brother Symo has this close friend of his called Allan Mwangi who hails from a home that is not far from ours. I find Allan such a friendly and helpful fellow. One day in 2014 when Allan visited Symo at home, he walked into my room and engaged me in a conversation in the course of which he asked me, "How was Starehe?" He was talking of Starehe Boys' Centre, a charitable institution here in Kenya where I had my high school as well as college education.
I was lucky to have attended Starehe in its heyday when Dr. Geoffrey W. Griffin, the celebrated founder of the school, was its director. For quite a number of years before I joined Starehe and during my time there, the school was always either position 1 or 2 in the final Kenya's high school exams known as KCSE. That was apart from the 2002 KCSE exams when Starehe emerged number 5 nationally.
We, the Starehe students, used to get excited during the release of KCSE results. Media cameras would roll into the school to capture the atmosphere of excitement among Starehe students on evening assembly. Some Form 1 students, eager to appear in the media, would scramble to sit on the front benches of the school assembly hall.
When Starehe emerged number 5 in the 2002 KCSE exams, there was a palpable wave of sadness and disappointment among students and teachers of the school. Some members of the Starehe community suspected the KCSE results were doctored at the examination centre to punish our school for not having taken part in a 2002 teachers' strike. And quite a number of that year's Starehe candidates paid to have their KCSE papers marked again. It just wasn't usual for Starehe to be number 5.
I attribute Starehe's exemplary performance in KCSE exams in our time to the way it admitted the brightest boys in the country, the crème de la crème. After the release of Kenya's national primary school exam results, most top-performing boys when asked which high school they wanted to attend, would say it was Starehe Boys' Centre. And Starehe attracted the brightest boys owing to its culture of excellence. For most of us Starehe students, the desire to excel academically was in our DNA.
Our culture of excellence was apparent in the way we kept the school neat and tidy. We used to have what we called the inter-house cleanliness competition in which the cleanest dormitory would get recognized fortnightly. The announcement of inter-house cleanliness competition riveted junior boys who did the donkey work in keeping the school neat and tidy.
Standards of discipline among Starehe students were also high during our time in the school. Pocketing, oversleeping in the morning, not wearing a tie in class or speaking rudely to a prefect could get you into hot water. But if you felt you were being punished unfairly, you could air your grievances during baraza, a weekly meeting between students and staff of the school. Most of us found barazas to be very entertaining, just listening to our fellow students complain about something or propose a new idea.
Starehe teachers also played a pivotal role in infusing us with a culture of excellence. Devoted and competent, the teachers administered tests like clockwork, sometimes over lunch hour. And some of them offered remedial classes to the academically weak students.
Perhaps due to its renowned culture of excellence, Starehe occasionally received high-profile visitors. Like in 2002 when I was in Form 1, Princess Anne - a member of British royal family - was the guest of honour on that year's Founder's Day. In days leading to the Founder's Day, Dr. Griffin kept reminding us of the impending visit of "Her Royal Highness". I wondered what he meant by "Her Royal Highness". And from the way he pronounced it made it sound to me like "Her Royal Hyenas". Only until much later did I realize that that was the respectful way of referring to Princess Anne.
Then the following year in 2003, our school hosted President Mwai Kibaki on Founder's Day. During one baraza a week or two before that year's Founder's Day, Dr. Griffin joked how those of us receiving prizes would shake the President's hand. Because I was slated to get a prize as the best Music student in junior high school on that Founder's Day, I looked forward to shaking the President's hand. So when the day reached, I ironed my best school uniform and wore it in preparation for my face-to-face encounter with the President. But alas! When it came time to receive my prize, it was not the President who gave it to me but Prof. George Saitoti, the then Minister of Education. I was proud of my achievement nonetheless.
And then in 2005 when I was in Fourth Form, Hon. Moody Awori - the then Vice-President of Kenya - graced us with his presence on that year's Founder's Day. (Dr. Griffin was conspicuously missing on that occasion as he was in hospital; he died a few weeks later.) Seated on a podium as a piano accompanist that day, I happened to observe Hon. Awori closely as he delivered his speech. And wow! I was impressed to hear him speak fluently without reading from written notes so much that I mentioned his eloquence of speech to my classmate Wilson Chira who was also seated on the piano dais. Chira enlightened me that the Vice-President was reading his speech from a set of two screens mounted in front of him.
Yes, Starehe was a great school during our time. That's why teachers from other schools regularly came to our school to learn the secrets of our success. I remember walking into a lecture theatre where a group of visiting teachers had been given a talk and found written on the theatre's blackboard the number of 'A's and 'A-'s that Starehe had registered in the previous KCSE exams. The numbers were impressive to say the very least.
Don't get me wrong; I don't mean to say that Starehe was an utopia during our time. The school had its share of challenges and imperfections. I'd have loved to tell you about those imperfections but to keep this story shorter than a novel, let me do that in my next story. So stay tuned to this blog.
RECOMMENDATION: If you've enjoyed this story on the Starehe of our time, you might also enjoy another one I wrote two years ago on "Developing Mental Clarity". Just click on that link in blue to dive straight into the story.