Thick smoke bellows from a semi-permanent kitchen adjacent to the main house and an old granary in the outskirts of Bomet Central Constituency.
A chicken coop and two huge water tanks stand right behind the house where Ms Ruth Chelule lives. When we arrived at the home, she is with three of her 12 grandchildren, engaging them as they feed her chicken.
The 59-year-old grandmother, who hails from Sogoet village made history this week after she was formally employed as an Early Childhood Education Development (ECED) teacher in Bomet County.
Ms Chelule was among 1,200 ECDE teachers placed on permanent and pensionable terms by the county government, though hers is a contract because of her advanced age.
“I am so elated and I got a triple blessing as I was employed alongside two of my daughters – Ms Remmy Chebet Mutai and Roselinda Chemutai – who have been teaching in other centres in the county, where they are married. Both have ECDE Diploma certificates,” says an elated Ms Chelule.
In an interview at the homestead on the edge of the Mau Forest on a cold Wednesday afternoon, the newly employed teacher proudly narrated her journey, moulding young children and introducing them to formal education while she earned as little as Sh200 per month.
“I strongly consider it as a service to the society. I started teaching in 1986 at Tagaruto Primary School where I was paid an average of Sh200 for 17 years,” says Ms Chelule who is married to Mzee Alfred Chelule, a retired primary school teacher.
For two years, she earned a stipend of Sh30 per child before it was increased to Sh50 following intervention by headmistress Ms Lydia Ng’eno, now a local women leader.
But still on average, Ms Chelule earned between Sh300 and Sh500 a month because parents could not raise much to remunerate her.
“I founded the school by teaching children under a tree after village elders proposed that a learning institution be put up in the area. I took up the challenge and have never looked back,” she says.
Years later, after moving to Sogoet Primary School, she continued discharging her noble duty, this time making a meagre Sh3,000.
But with patience, resilience and dedication, she will now earn Sh13,800 a month, having secured formal employment.
For me, Ms Chelule says, it was not much about the money, but positively impacting children and shaping them to be responsible members of the society.
Despite having acquired a certificate in Early Childhood Education 30 years ago, being a holder of a Diploma certificate in Theology, and having taught for three decades, it was not until 2014 when she finally got a registration number from the Teachers Service Commission (TSC).
“With advent of county governments and ECDE being a devolved function, TSC eventually yielded to decades of pressure and registered the teachers,” said Mrs Chelule.
She never expected to get an appointment letter despite having been interviewed by the Public Service Board for the job, as she planned to retire at age 60 like all employees in public sector, though she was not in a formal employment.
“At one point, I lost hope when I did not get an appointment letter from the county government six years ago when the first lot of ECDE teachers were taken in. I was on the brink of burning my certificates when one of my sons talked me out of it” says Ms Chelule.
She says one needs passion for the job and love for children to succeed as an ECDE teacher.
“Teaching is a calling especially for those of us tasked with laying the education foundation for children. You must love children to succeed as they need a lot of care and attention” she notes.
What does a day in class with kids look like? I pose the question to her at the tail end of the interview.
“Mondays are the most interesting because instead of going straight into the day’s lessons, children excitedly want to tell stories of how they spend their weekends and they do not want to be dissuaded from it,” she says with spills of laughter.
She adds: “You cannot directly tell the children to stop sharing stories of trips they made to trading centres and visits to their relatives….and sweets relatives bought them…it is all part of learning and growing for them.”
Though the contract runs for one year, she looks forward to her employer renewing it.
“I would like to work and retire on attaining 65 years as I have the drive to do the job I have been at for three-and-a-half decades,” says Ms Chelule.
Courtesy of Daily Nation