Twelve years after Martin Mburu was re-routed to Corner Brook, Newfoundland during the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, there now stands a school in Juja, Kenya.
This school, home to 111 boys from the ages of 14-18, is named to commemorate the place that welcomed him with open arms at a moment’s notice.
Sitting in a taxi, bumping along a dirt road, I was anxiously awaiting my arrival at this school — a little piece of home buried in the heart of East Africa. We pulled up to the gate, and something inside me warmed as I read the sign: The Corner Brook School.
I was astounded first, by the size and sophistication of the place. This was no typical Kenyan school: there were no dirt floors, no pit latrines, no wooden doors falling off their hinges.
But the uniqueness went far beyond aesthetics and infrastructure. Guided by the school’s founder and director, Martin, I saw every inch of the compound. I was told first hand of its origin, saw its growth in progress, and learned of the vision for the future.
As I was led through classrooms, walkways, dorms and laboratories, The Corner Brook School emblem presented itself everywhere I turned. Every desk, door, and article of clothing proudly read The Corner Brook School — Semper Paratus.
“It means ‘ever ready,’” Martin told me. “When I landed in Newfoundland, and met Jacqueline (Carey — his host in Corner Brook), I knew that no one had more than a moment’s notice about our arrival. Yet they were ready. We were welcomed as family. People took time off work and time off from their schedule and routine to make us feel at home. Corner Brook, its people, were ready for us. We teach our students to be ready for anything.”
Perhaps the one thing they were not ready for, however, was me — a visitor from Corner Brook itself! Walking through the compound, they greeted me first with smiles and waves and then with shocked faces when they realized where I was from.
“Are you really from Corner Brook? We want to come there,” they all chorused.
I was treated like a lifelong friend by all of the students and staff. I was given tea, merchandise and even offered a school tracksuit. Martin said to the principal, “She is welcome anytime here. When she comes here, she is home — as is anyone from Corner Brook.”
In addition to the standard amenities, The Corner Brook School boasted other things that took it another step outside of the typical academic box: a paved basketball court, a full sized rugby/soccer field, drama and music classes and annual participation in festivals, a garden to grow vegetables, a small chicken farm and — my personal favorite — a garden of trees, each belonging to a student.
Any student who comes must bring a tree to plant and must take care of it during the full duration of their high school education to learn how to care, commit and be patient as they work towards results. The school covers all the bases of personal and academic growth, and covers them well.
Admiring this beautifully designed and well-equipped institution, I was particularly interested in school fees: a serious and constant issue for families wishing to send their children to a decent school in Kenya. I was told that there were set fees, but if families could not afford to pay them, they were asked to pay the maximum amount possible.
The rest Martin covered himself, either personally or through donations. I was astounded. In a country where the desire for money often overrides everything else — morals, laws and sometimes life — Martin had ensured that The Corner Brook School was different. It was not about money — it was about education, empowerment and the value that lies in raising young men into accomplished, grounded and driven individuals.
Unsurprisingly, the school is gaining a reputation as a top-quality institution in Kenya and is growing more quickly than anticipated. Construction is underway to provide additional dorms and classrooms as they prepare to increase enrollment up to 160 students before the end of this year. In the next four to six years it expects to reach its maximum of 360 boys and, in the future, Martin envisions a branch network into other parts of East and Central Africa.
There is a bright future ahead for this school and its students, and they will be “ever ready” for it.
Haley Kawaja, Programme Coordinator
ROTH HIV/AIDS Prevention Programme
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