CoH Stories:
Mini Ravi
1. What is your earliest memory of Corner of Hope?

A few months after I had started working at AMI in Amsterdam, Lynne, having returned from a trip to Kenya, showed us photos of the school. Apart from loving the idea that she was happy to share updates on something I was not directly involved with, I was completely taken by the work being done there. I still remember Lynne being so pleased that there was now a more marked pathway from the highway leading towards the community. The photos showed the materials being hand made by trainee teachers, the classrooms at the school and the teachers looking so proud of their space, children working with the materials and teachers welcoming the team into their homes. I think I spoke to Lynne immediately after that about wanting to work with the initiative and AMI's other outreach work whenever an opportunity came up!

In terms of my earliest physical memory, it has to be the iconic white roofs visible from the highway as you drive in to Nakuru. They are first thing I ever saw when I first visited!

The community itself changed the way it perceived the school. There was always pride in the school that they built themselves, from the ground up, brick by brick, but the sentiment grew to include a genuine understanding of what the school actually means to them.
2. What has changed in Corner of Hope since you first set foot in the school?

CoH has seen remarkable changes since the first time I set foot in the school in 2014. The premises greatly improved starting with simple things such as staff room furniture, kitchen shelves and better maintained shamba, to more prominent changes such as the compound wall, name board, greenery around the compound, and the material repair room. Of course, the most interesting change is the materials in the classrooms themselves. As the teachers trained and engaged more, they started bringing in more creativity and fun into their classrooms. There were more art and craft activities available to the children and paintings and handmade plastic bottle installations hanging on the walls. The environment feels warm, welcoming and full of excitement, fun and learning.

The extension of the school into Njoro and the addition of the elementary classroom were also significant. What started as a small school literally at the corner of a small IDP settlement has grown to become the cornerstone of the community offering Montessori primary and elementary education.

Another significant change I witnessed is in the teachers. It was such a privilege and a great learning experience for me to see how the teachers, strong men and women who were at first unsure of themselves and their work, slowly understood the greatness of the work they were doing, gained confidence in themselves and started to feel confident and proud of their work. Whether it was speaking up and speaking louder, or, more importantly, expressing an opinion about what needs to be done, how and why. It was wonderful to see them taking ownership of their space and work. The school had no dearth of local, national and international visitors and while visitors used to be accompanied by the local project coordinator in the beginning, the teachers are now happy and confident to host visitors independently, explain the teaching and methodology and answer all questions without hesitation.

Finally, the community itself changed the way it perceived the school. There was always pride in the school that they built themselves, from the ground up, brick by brick, but the sentiment grew to include a genuine understanding of what the school actually means to them. They are even more invested in maintaining it as a safe space for their children and contribute to it in a variety of ways: helping dye the cloth for the uniforms, weaving sweaters, allocating space where needed, offering vegetables for the children's lunches, cleaning the play areas, and even bringing the children in on school holidays when we have visitors!

It would be remiss of me not to mention the growth and changes on the teacher training side of things. Staff development took an important step up when some teachers and trainers were the first from the initiative to join an AMI 3-6 International Diploma and one of the trainers joined the AMI 0-3 International Diploma. A few other teachers also completed the first national level Montessori 6-12 teacher training course. The up-skilling programme contributed significantly to the quality of teaching and training at the college and the school.

3. What has stayed the same?

The Montessori inspired ethos of the project as a whole and its commitment to the community has never wavered.

Mini and Felista in the elementary classroom at Corner of Hope, 2019
4. What do you think has been the greatest success of Corner of Hope?

CoH's greatest success has been to establish itself as a centre of excellence for Montessori education. Not only do teachers and education professionals from traditional school systems visit the school and training centre to learn more about it, but the project also welcomes a steady stream of national and international visitors who are keen to set up similar initiatives inspired by CoH.

CoH has also contributed to Kenyan education via its work to make Kenya the first African country to approve the Montessori Certificate teacher training course as an official nursery teacher training pathway.

5. What is the most special thing you have learned from Corner of Hope?

The most important thing I learnt from my time with CoH is the true meaning of grit and resilience. As I got to know the trainers and teachers, local team members and members of the community, I was amazed to the see their inner strength as they dealt with the trauma they had experienced and their commitment to be somebody, to make something out of themselves. I was lucky to have met and worked with some very inspiring people at CoH!

6. What was the funniest moment you have experienced in relation to Corner of Hope?

One of the funniest moments I had was at the school at New Canaan when we were interviewing teachers about the new curriculum being introduced by the Kenyan government. Felista, one of our first elementary teachers, would not stop laughing as she recounted the government's abysmal handling of the process and how the curriculum seems to draw heavily on the Montessori curriculum but in a very inconsistent and incomplete manner. She couldn't string two words together without laughing. Her laughter wad so infectious that soon everyone was rolling over the floor laughing with many not even sure what they were laughing about in the first place. It took a while before we could finally compose ourselves and get on with the interview but not without a few giggles slipping in.

It shows how respect and commitment to a community leads to trust and enduring relationships.
7. What makes Corner of Hope unique?

CoH truly embodies the idea of development as a process of growth and change versus top-down donor-recipient movement of pre-conceived ideas of what development might be. It shows how working in partnership with a community to enable them to express their needs and expectations and how they can be met, leads to long-term change. It shows how respect and commitment to a community leads to trust and enduring relationships. These, in my opinion, are fundamental to any initiatives aimed at sustainable positive change.

8. What do you think Corner of Hope will look like 10 years from now?

In 10 years, CoH will most likely have a full-scale Montessori teacher training centre offering national and international diplomas as all levels and a programme of school accreditation along with a network of schools offering 0-18 years education for Kenyan children from all backgrounds. Montessori for Kenya would be its key partner in spearheading the movement for a more holistic, child-centred education in the country through workshops, seminars, conferences and more. I look forward to booking my travel to Kenya when CoH is ready to host AMI's next International Montessori Congress!