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Page last updated at 08:53 GMT, Friday, 26 March 2010
Irish Guards Soldiers in Kenyan school build project
By Faye Harland
BBC Berkshire Reporter

Faye Harland in Kenya
Faye Harland spent time with children in Kenya

It is a far cry from the River Thames and the Great Park, but there's a small corner of Africa that will be forever Windsor thanks to the Irish Guards.

Usually based at Victoria Barracks, the regiment is in Kenya for six weeks doing intensive training ahead of being deployed to Afghanistan in the autumn.

Alongside the battlefield preparations a community project is taking place.

Head north from Nairobi by road and after nine hours you will reach Samburu Land.

Around 80 per cent of children are illiterate and only a third of children go to school.

One of the biggest challenges facing the schools in the area is attracting and retaining teachers and that's where the Irish Guards and Royal Engineers come in.

The Irish Guards' Commanding Officer, Lieutenant Colonel Ben Farrell, told me the project was the brainchild of one of his officers: "Major Paddy Shields had worked here for four years and a friend of his said the Samburu people really need your help," he said.

"Why don't you have a look at the school and see what you think? He went and - like I was - he was absolutely captivated by the kids.

"We gain so much from coming here it was good to give something back."

The plan is simple. It will take six weeks to build a new accommodation block for teachers at the school.

At the moment there are 130 pupils aged between 6 and 16, but only three teachers and the hope is that this will enable the school to attract more staff and offer more continuity for the children.

Irish Guards help children in Kenya
Children from the school in Kenya

Shortage of teachers

The head teacher, Joseph Lentuka, says the shortage of teachers is causing real problems.

"We teach them six subjects," he said. "We have English, mathematics, science, social studies, Swahili and religious education.

"Currently we have three teachers teaching all the subjects and all classes so it is a lot of work.

"We are supposed to be teaching 28 lessons a week but we're teaching up to 80 because we don't have enough teachers.

"If we get more teachers the workload with be reduced. We will be able to cover the syllabus properly."

The plan might be simple, but in reality the engineers have been facing some of the most challenging conditions of their careers.

The heat alone would be enough to put off many people. Temperatures regularly exceed 45 degrees celsius leading the team of 20 to adopt a new way of working.

They start on site every day before 7am, work until 2pm when it becomes too hot to carry on, then spend some time with the children or simply resting.

At 4pm it is back to work until the sun goes down at around 7pm. The heat has also been causing problems with the equipment and materials.

Irish Guards help children in Kenya
Irish Guard with children from the school in Kenya

Staff Sergeant Gareth Richardson is overseeing the building project.

"Concreting should be done over two days but because of the heat we're working in at the moment there was no way we could do that," he said.

"So we decided to do it overnight. We started pouring the concrete at 7pm and I think the last of us got to bed at about three in the morning.

"The lads were pretty knackered at the end of it but we had to get it done in one go."

Ordering and delivering materials is also a massive challenge. Sergeant John Ritchie is in charge of liaising with local suppliers:

"The site is seven hours by road in a military vehicle from the nearest big town, Nanyuki. This means the team has to plan ahead as there is a minimum turnaround time of two days on any orders."

They say an army marches, or in this case builds, on its stomach and this team is no exception.

Irish Guards S Sgt Gareth Richardson
Staff Sergeant Gareth Richardson is overseeing the school build

Among them is chef Private Kirk Davis who is usually based in Windsor.

The 23 year old says this is his first experience of cooking, alone, in the field:

"When I first got here my gas supply wasn't working for the first three days so I improvised, dug a hole and built a barbecue. We had chilli and jacket spuds.

"I'm working with 10-man ration boxes. You get dried goods, tinned items, rice, sweets - basically enough to do three meals a day.

"It's been good to have a little play around so that when I go into theatre in October, I'll know what I'm dealing with."

It's not all work though and the lads have had the chance to get to interact with the local tribesmen and spend some time with the children at the school.

Many of them are fathers themselves and told me how hard it can be to see the comparative poverty there.

As you might expect the international language of sport has had a big part to play in building relations between the children and the soldiers.

They now play football and volleyball together regularly, and have even introduced them to the complexities of rugby.

Irish Guards Chef Private Kirk Davis
Chef Private Kirk Davis is usually based in Windsor

Staff Sergeant Gareth Richardson says it has offered them a chance to bond with the children.

"When we got here the volleyball court and football pitch were not marked out so we made that a priority.

"To begin with we played in teams - soldiers against locals - but we kept getting out butts kicked so now have mixed teams to ensure it is fair."

The new accommodation block should be ready to handover to the school at the beginning of April 2010.

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