By Sophie Ngugi – Kenya –I recall that day very vividly like it was yesterday. I was sitting outside our house in rural Thika District of Central province, bored after finishing the afternoon house chores. I don’t remember much anxiety apart from wondering if I had performed well enough in my Kenya Certificate of Primary Education (KCPE) Exams. These are the final exams after primary school education in Kenya in the 8-4-4 system. I sat for the KCPE exams in a local public school, Mang’u Primary School. My family members kept assuring me that I had done quite well. The KCPE exams determine much of the future for a young person in Kenya. It determined the kind of school one would get admitted to for high school education. January 1991 was a significant year for me. Apart from waiting patiently for secondary school admission, there was also the Gulf war and I remember my young mind disturbed that we will all get bombed with threats of nuclear war. In those days when communication was not as developed we relied on radio for news. It was during such a moment, that a boy from the neighbourhood arrived with a letter that changed my life. He had been sent from my primary school with my secondary school letter of admission. I don’t remember the circumstances under which one of my siblings was not given the letter, but it seems the headmaster (Mr James Muiru who was a great inspiration) returned from the district education office with the letters when the lower primary school had mostly gone home but he had to make sure I got the letter that day!
I could tell the boy had run all the way from school, and he excitedly handed me the letter. The girls who performed well in my school got admissions at the provincial school that share a fence with my (former) primary school; St Francis Girls High School Mang’u. I somehow knew I would be admitted to this school so was not excited at all. I had no excitement of being in a school that is within the locality, a school I had known since childhood. So, as I opened the letter and in my mind I saw St Francis Girls, and with no excitement went ahead to start reading the contents of the letter. I realised the boy was not moving an inch, as if waiting for reactions, and I knew he would get disappointed, there was no excitement for a young girl imagining taking a walk to secondary school every opening and closing day! One didn’t need to board even 5 minutes of public transport from my home to the school.
As I continued reading, I saw ‘Kikuyu’ and realised how absent minded I had been. I went back to the logo and introduction of the letter, and that is when I saw it ‘Alliance Girls High school’! I remember screaming at the top of my voice barely believing and giving my siblings to make sure I was not imagining! That was unheard of! Alliance Girls was (is) one of the most prestigious national schools and I had not even dreamt of ever getting there. I had chosen this as my first choice of national school since it was a requirement that we select schools in all categories. This was my favourite in national schools but never thought I can get there. I cannot describe the excitement that I felt that day. I cannot describe the anxiety as my father took me to school on the first day of reporting. I had not seen such a beautiful school!
Fast forward, 20 years later, I was back to the same school! When I saw the invitation for the ‘old girls’ reunion at the school on February 12, 2011 at the school, I felt the excitement of 20 years back when I had stepped into this school that has largely shaped who I am today. I made sure my camera battery was fully charged since I wanted to recapture every memory of this school, and I was not disappointed. Alliance Girls was the first school for African girls and was hence it was initially referred to as the African Girls High School. At the beginning, the first 10 African girls from all over the country were admitted to this school and 63 years later, in 2011, the population was 975 students! Most schools had nicknames and hence for Alliance our nickname is Bush hence we fondly referred to ourselves as Busherians for both the girls’ and boys’ school. The school was started in 1948 by the Alliance of Protestant missions and is founded on the values of the Presbyterian Church of East Africa. For that reason, we participated often in the Kikuyu Church of Torch where all the schools started by the mission went for joint services once per term.
For the old girls of the school, it was therefore nostalgic moment to be back to this place that had formed us to who we are today and offered as great opportunity for holistic growth. On arriving at the school, we were ushered to the registration desk where we also signed the visitors’ books according to our houses. At Alliance, the houses were like a ‘birth right’ and I realised nothing had changed. On asking ‘where is McPherson house’ some excited girls shouted, here! here! These are girls born after I joined the school but somehow we felt a common bond of McPherson house. I was ‘labelled’ with colour of McPherson house, Grey ribbon! The issue of house colours was new. Each house had a different colour and from that time onwards, walking in the corridors one could tell which house you ‘belonged’ to. The sense of belonging was still there.
Houses at Alliance were a precious place to belong that there was a policy to make sure that if one had a sister in the school they were allocated the same house. The houses were normally named after women who had passed by the school in different ways as either head teachers, reverend or other significant ways. During my time, there were 8 houses McPherson (Mc), Joan Waithaka (JW), Stevenson (Steve) Dorcas Luseno (DL), Watson, Kenya, Bruce and Burns House. Two new houses had been added to the school in the last 2 or so years; one being Ms Rebecca Karanja house named after our principal at the school who was the second African principal after Ms Joan Waithaka.
The girls and teachers welcomed for the mid morning tea which we had fondly referred to as ‘para’. For some strange reason, this and not any other meal was the most popular meal at Alliance. The two slices of bread of Levillas bread are still memorable meal for all ex-busherians we were disappointed that there was no Levillas bread this time! After tea we took short trip in the school before settling at the tents for the formal program of the day. As usual we sat according to the houses so once again at peace with McPhersoners and catching up. One of the interesting events of the day was the ‘bush project fame’ where we all joined in inter-house singing competitions. We were very enthusiastic in the competitions and it brought back memories of the inter-house competitions. We had competitions in sports, music, drama, science congress, swimming among others. Swimming was done in conjunction with our brother school, Alliance high school popularly referred to as Acrossians’. We were across each other hence the term ‘across’ where each house had a brother house for joint activities. For McPherson our brother house was Arthur house. On this day the competition was fun and it was interesting to see that as old girls we were so enthusiastic about winning!
I was touched by the slogan that the current principal Mrs Kamwilu recited with the girls; “When people sit, we stand, when they stand we stand out, when they stand out we become outstanding, when they become outstanding we become the standard measure.” This has become the Alliance Girls slogan. It took me back to my days in the school with the Principal Mrs Karanja whose quotes and words of advice I remember to date. One of the most popular which I like using is that ‘there is no platform in life where you go to give excuses why you didn’t succeed’ and ‘ It doesn’t matter what happens to you but rather how you handle what happens to you’. Most of the ex-busherians who went through the leadership of Mrs Karanja will recall a word of advice and the most uttered being ‘girls you have the potential’. She made us realise that we had what it takes to be the best in life. She also gave tough love rebuke when we misbehaved. I recall when she was annoyed by actions that were not in line with what was expected of us and she would tell us ‘you have got a head above your shoulders’ or ‘use what is between your ears’. She was quite an inspiration and I believe that my teenage years were empowering for having passed at Alliance.
I have fond memories of this school as there was a lot that made this a different school to be in. Some of the practices that marveled our friends in other schools, was the freedom that we had at Alliance Girls. To start with, every Saturday was a visiting day from the first day to the last day of the school term. We were also allowed to go outside the school compound on Saturdays with the places allowed to visit being Kikuyu town, Alliance High school and the Kikuyu hospital. Saturdays 2.30 to 5.00Pm therefore used to be memorable moments. The one place that was out of bounds (for obvious reasons) was the Kikuyu campus of University of Nairobi. We also had guidance and counseling sessions with structured program every second term. We looked forward to this time when we had 3 full days of guidance and counseling and watching educational movies.
In teenage years that are mostly spent in secondary school, it is the time that boy/girl relationships are a big deal and an issue of concern. In Bush we were allowed to socialize, actually it was encouraged, or should I say it was compulsory to socialize with boys! Each house had one or two joint activities every school term with their brother house. Each school year in Kenya has 3 terms. The functions were referred to as ‘house games’ where we had a session after classes and engaged in games, socializing and refreshments’ or the socials which were afternoon event of socializing on a Saturday. These functions were compulsory for girls in form 1-3, but optional for the form 4 girls. We also had school programs joint like joint Christian fellowship rallies at every beginning and end of term, visiting the sick in hospital, visit to old people’s home, teaching Sunday school, joint movies, and Christmas carol services, mass for Catholic girls among others. This made us realize the harmless and empowered aspect of friendship between members of the opposite sex while appreciating the need to care for the less fortunate in the society. Valentine’s Day was introduced to me at Alliance where we were matched and one had to do a ‘love letter’ to the secret friend and came to meet the person during socials!! The songs of Solomon Bible verses therefore came in handy. I can narrate many fond memories of this school. The school promoted holistic growth, while emphasizing the main aim of being in school, academic performance.
There were also not so memorable events and practices. The compulsory cross-country that we did about 3 days a week were particularly torture for many of us! There were punishments, popularly known as ‘detention’ since it meant that one was not free to go out on Saturday afternoon but rather be engaged in some manual work. I was in a class that often got into trouble due to making noise. We sometimes escaped as we ‘explained’ to excuse ourselves but we often got into detention due to noise making. The community work that we did every Friday was not so appreciated since it meant quite substantial manual work but now I realize how important these were. It felt like the worst torture to wash toilets which was a duty for forms one’s and woe unto you if there was water scarcity and the toilets were meant to be sparkling clean. I still recall girls crying helplessly in form 1 when one used soap solution that was very thick instead of the scoring powder in the toilet bowl, meaning the more water you used the more the foam. This was despite the limited time of morning chores before classes began. We had a practice of house mothers hence the Form 2 girl who suffered any mishaps of the ‘daughter’ did in form 1! I still recall trying to clean a blocked toilet.
One can’t not remember Bus Girls without remembering the school song ‘Friends are precious’. These are words that I still treasure:
Friends are precious, they’re the best of all things that one can ever have,
Nothing material can take the place of the comradeship between you and I.
Genuine friendship has no jealousy no pride, it has no envy and no lies,
It has no room for loneliness and pain, because it’s all based on love.
Based on love
The light of Alliance has always been and forever will be our guide,
Challenge can never alter the course of the goals we’ve all set for our lives.
The light of Alliance stands for unity and hope, it binds us together, makes us one,
It gives us the strength to courageously go forth, all in the power of the Lord.
Of the Lord
The reunion was a refresher of the memories of being a ’Busherian.’ I visited most of the memorable spaces especially my former dormitory. It was nostalgic going through the rooms that I slept in for the years I was in school. Some things have changed others remain the same, all in all I could feel the sense of belonging. It was interesting to chat and connect with the students who were basically born around or after the time I left school. I am still amused at the way the young girls jawed dropped on telling them I left school 16 years ago!
Memories are made of this, and I cannot trade anything for the lovely memories of having passed at Alliance Girls’. I realize I was privileged to get to this school and currently engaged in mentoring girls and boys from my former primary school where no other girl has gone to Alliance Girls or other national schools since my year when four of us got admissions at national schools, with two of us at Alliance Girls. I believe that much as not every girl can get to such schools, there are many with potential that is not tapped. The mentorship initiative ‘Dare to dream’ was inspired by the realization that girls and boys can be what they wish to be, if only they can dream big. I hope to be an inspiration together with other young people engaged in this initiative to inspire them to be the best that they can. I owe my life at Alliance Girls’ for opening my eyes to the realization that girls have what it takes to succeed in life. It just needs to be nurtured.
Long live Bush! I can’t wait for the next reunion.