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Boarding Schools in Kenya: “The Headmistress Stepped on her Neck as she Lay Down, while Beating Her”


Hello friends! In today’s post, I feature a mom who says that she’ll never take her child to a boarding school because of her own experiences in such an institution. From inferiority complex, feeling unwanted by her parents, caning, bathing with ice-cold water…. Read her story below.

“I remember the first day I went to boarding school. It was on a Sunday afternoon in January in the late 90’s when dad drove to the school. It was my parents, me, a metallic box which I would have easily fit in, and a travel bag which would as well have had me carried in. I was eight years old and was joining class four.

The school was in a serene environment at the foot of one of the hills in Central Kenya. The compound was very beautiful, the staff clean and kind, the infrastructure just as impressive.

My parents had stable jobs and as expected, at some point in my primary schooling, my parents would transfer me from the local public school to an ‘academy’. The boarding school that they found best fit for me was a Catholic girl’s school, run by nuns.

So that afternoon when I reported to school accompanied by my parents, I was a bit excited, yet also sad. A nun checked my luggage against a list to ensure I had bought all the requirements, and that everything was properly labelled.

After the inspection, I was led to the dormitory and given a locker, where one I would keep my day to day stuff like soap, toothbrush, uniform etc. My locker was closest to the ceiling, but I was too short to get there. The matron though assured my mum that I’d always be provided with a stool to step on. But that was just a story. No stool was ever provided and that matron later didn’t even appear as though she ever uttered such words.

After my parents left, I was on my own. It was such a sad day for me. For starters, I couldn’t communicate well in English or Swahili, yet that was the standard in this new school. My mother tongue, Kikuyu, was the only language I articulated so well because that was the language of instruction and conversation in the local public school I was coming from. English and Swahili were news to me. I mostly stuck to myself because of language barrier, with an inferiority complex that made me feel intimidated by the kids from urban areas (not their fault though).

So life with rules began. The routine was:

  • Wake up at 5.45am and be out of the dorm by 6.00am. In those 15 minutes, one was required to have showered, dressed up, made their bed and be ready for the day because we were not allowed back to the dorm till evening. Our bathing water was fetched in metallic buckets the previous evening and kept in the open all night long – at the same place we took our baths. The water would be horrifically ice cold by morning. Remember we were at the foot of the mountain
  • At exactly 6.00am, we ran to a nearby church for mass. Every day. And every 5.00pm to 5.30pm, we had Rosary recitation that was compulsory for all regardless of one’s denomination
  • We prepared all the food that was cooked for us. These included peeling potatoes, chopping kales and cabbages, selecting maize, beans, rice, etc. This had a good side though as it helped us to learn chores
  • We all had cleaning duties, whether you were eight years old or 14 years old
  • We all did our own laundry every evening right from the eight-year-olds to the older 14-year-olds

There were many rules. Some good, some I thought were unnecessary. However, one of the most challenging aspects of my life there was the endless beatings. We had to endure numerous canings whenever rules were broken.

Get late to church, you get caned. Get late from church, cane. Do your duty poorly, cane. Don’t take the cold breakfast porridge because you don’t like it, cane. Be unable to finish your githeri (which was a daily meal), cane. Be cheeky and receive Holy Communion yet you aren’t a Catholic, cane. Cane. Cane. Cane day in day out.

We were caned on our hands, the area behind the palms with a ruler, the buttocks, the feet, and the part of the legs between the knee and ankle. Usually, the least number of canes one would receive was 10, many times it was in multiples of 10. I once got 21 canes on my palms because I hadn’t finished a Maths assignment. My hands got so swollen. In addition to that punishment, I and other girls were instructed to clean a pavement, in the rain! Yet I couldn’t even squeeze a rag because of my painful, swollen hands!

The cane was not the only means of punishment though. When in class six, we were once found to have been making noise (it was near 10pm, the time to go to sleep) and the prefect didn’t have a list of noise makers. The whole class was asked to go out and sleep on the grass until 11pm tumbo chini! The grass was wet with dew. Thankfully, one of us who began nosebleeding saved us from this torture.

Hair Shaved by Force

The pass mark for our tests was 375/500. If you scored below that, you had your hair shaved. If you were found having broken a rule like sleeping in class and you had long hair, it was all shaved off.

Neck Stepping while Being Beaten

I remember this one time one girl ran away from school. She was reported by the community and brought back. The kind of beating she received during assembly as we all watched terrified us and served as a warning to anyone who would have thought of doing the same. We watched in horror as the headmistress stepped on her neck as she lay down, while giving her a beating. That episode still haunts me to date 🙁

Dare to Snitch!

Our letters to home and from home were read at the office first before being posted? Those who were found to have tried to say something bad about the school to their parents were properly dealt with. The same happened when letters would be sent to us – they would first be read by the school administration before being given to us. There was basically zero confidentiality.

Through God’s grace, I performed averagely and was called to a provincial school, and later got university admission. That didn’t happen without lots of emotional and psychological struggle.

So how has that boarding school experience shaped me over the years?

– The distance that was created by being away at such a tender age from my parents, particularly mum (whose marriage to my dad later failed) was never to be recovered. For a very long time, I kept wondering why my parents walinitupa mapema hivyo (‘threw me away’ at a tender age). Well, what everyone says is that ‘they had my best interests at heart’. Anyway, I rest it at that. Later in life, Jesus touched my heart and today I rejoice knowing that He loved me even then and all things were to work out for my good even though I didn’t understand. Jesus has helped me forgive my parents

My mum and I rarely reason alike. I have had to hustle and learn how to survive on my own. And so in my adulthood, she may want me to do things or see things in a certain way, but it’s just hard for she and I to read from the same page. I love her so much still.

-Because of the strict rules and intense caning I received in the school, when I went to high school, the freedom -though very limited was overwhelming to me. I really struggled to keep the straight path and not be naughty

How this has Affected How I Parent

From my experience, my style of parenting is very different from how I was brought up. A primary boarding school is an ABSOLUTE NO! Even in high school, it doesn’t have to be.

My parenting decisions are also heavily influenced by my Christian values which I hold to heart. I want to spend as much time with my children as I can, to not only take care of them as they grow, but also disciple them to be Christ’s followers. That I can only achieve while they are with me, as they are growing up.

I’m married with one son.” -END 

So that’s this mom’s story. How about you? Would you take your child to a boarding school? Why yes, or why no? Share your thoughts in the comments section down below.

You may also like to watch the video below:

Mummy Tales is a platform dedicated to empowering its readers on different aspects of womanhood and motherhood. Read more motherhood experiences of Kenyan moms here. Connect with Mummy Tales on: YOU TUBEINSTAGRAM l TWITTER



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Maryanne W. Waweru is a Kenyan mum raising her two sons in Nairobi. A journalist, Maryanne is passionate about telling stories and hopes that through her writing, her readers learn something new, feel encouraged, inspired, and appreciative of what they have in their lives. Maryanne's writing focuses on motherhood, women and lifestyle. "Telling stories is the only thing I know how to do," she says.


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