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Partnership with Ndonyo-Wasin Primary School, Kenya

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For nearly a decade, Packer has built a relationship with the Ndonyo Wasin Primary School, a residential school for children from the nomadic Samburu people of northeastern Kenya.

Partnership in Practice
Curriculum Highlights

Who Are the Samburu?

The Samburu people live in Northeastern Kenya, just above the equator in the Samburu Province bordering Ethiopia. A tribal community, most of the Samburu live in small groups of families (between 8-15 families) in the valleys and mountains of a 4,500-square-mile area of the northern Rift Valley. Although they have traditionally been semi-nomadic herders, there are more cases of families settled semi-permanently in the bush and in villages like Sereolipi and Ndonyo Wasin.

Because of the extremely hot and dry climate, much of Samburu culture reflects their cooperative efforts to care for everyone and withstand hardships like droughts. In recent years, however, the environmental realities of climate change have made livestock more vulnerable, forcing changes to the Samburu’s longstanding way of life. Younger generations of the Samburu must find alternative ways of making a living to ensure the survival of the culture and community.


The mission of our partnership with Ndonyo Wasin Primary School has three facets:

In keeping with Packer’s mission to develop globally-minded women and men, our partnership with the Ndonyo Wasin Primary School aims to foster cultural awareness by building relationships between the communities, students, and faculty of our schools. To further this connection, Packer faculty members travel biennially to Kenya to engage with students and collaborate with the faculty in professional development. Additionally, we maintain a commitment to student-driven fundraising based on the expressed needs of the Ndonyo Wasin community.

Partnership in Practice

Packer's partnership with Ndonyo Wasin enriches the experiences of our Pre, Lower, and Middle School students in the following three ways:

Curriculum integration. Through the periodic exchange of letters, videos, photos, drawings, and class-made books, both Packer students and Ndonyo Wasin students learn about each other’s lives, cultures, and environments. In every year from Kindergarten through Fourth Grade, our students engage in a sequence of study that relates specific aspects of life at Ndonyo Wasin to our students' expanding study of their own environments: from their families and neighborhoods to our city and planet. This sequence allows the students' knowledge and understanding of the Samburu culture to deepen as they mature developmentally and cognitively. The Ndonyo Wasin school song, “Popalai Nowi Poyaki,” is taught to all Packer Lower School students and is often heard at Packer events such as the May Day Arts Festival.

Informed Philanthropy. Packer students come to understand the needs of our partner school. All students participate in a division-wide biennial fundraising effort to benefit Ndonyo Wasin, targeting the expressed needs of our partner school. The Lower School students’ spring 2014 Read-a-Thon, for example, raised over $30,000 to provide NWPS students and faculty with transportation for field trips and essential classroom books and supplies.

Deeper enrichment through faculty travel. Members of our faculty travel to Ndonyo Wasin every other year to collaborate with the faculty there and engage with students and, upon their return, to share with our students stories, local artifacts, and student work — plus photos and videos that bring their experiences in Kenya vividly to life for all of our students.

Curriculum Highlights in the Preschool, Lower School, and Middle School

Kindergartners spend a portion of the year building a classroom community and learning about their classmates’ lives. As the focus shifts from the individual to the collective Packer community, students are introduced to the Ndonyo Wasin Primary School and read books created by members of the Packer and Ndonyo Wasin communities. The essential questions are, 'How is the Packer community similar or different from the Ndonyo Wasin school community?', ‘How would you describe the life of a Ndonyo Wasin student?’ and ‘How would you describe your own experience?’ Using facts about both schools, children develop a general understanding about students within both communities. Children notice the differences in student demographics, skin color, clothing, and home/boarding life. They also notice games, TV programs, and instructional methods shared by the two places. These explorations support the curricula in the older grades.

Following a comprehensive study of the local community, First Grade students take a meaningful look at the Ndonyo Wasin community, drawing comparisons and making connections between the two. Important understandings include learning that Ndonyo Wasin is a rural community in Kenya, a country in Africa. Like Brooklyn Heights, the Ndonyo Wasin community has a school, a medical center, a church, a weekly market, a preschool, and a small group of permanent homes. Through readings, class discussions, and first hand accounts derived from faculty interviews, the students learn that the Samburu people who live and work in Ndonyo Wasin have their own ways of meeting their needs and wants just like we do in our own community. Some of those ways are the same, and some are different.

Second Grade students examine how geography — what an environment does and does not provide — has impacted the development of New York City, as well as the lives of its citizens. They then look at how the arid environment of northwestern Kenya has shaped the nomadic lifestyle of the Samburu. Through this comparative study, students develop a definition of culture that underscores the impact of the natural environment. Every child then chooses an aspect of Samburu life to study in depth: dress, food, family roles, livestock, and shelter. Finally, in small groups, students build smaller versions of Samburu enkajis — traditional semi-permanent dwellings that suit their nomadic way of life — in a project combining science, art, and architecture.

In previous years, the Third Graders discovered links between the Samburu way of life and the ways of the Lenape, particularly in the structural comparison of the enkajis to the wigwam. Additionally, the legends and myths of the Samburu were compared to the myths, folktales, and legends of the Lenape. This year, the Third Grade team will develop new ways to deepen their connection to the life and people in the Ndonyo Wasin community.

In the Fourth Grade, the students’ approach to Ndonyo Wasin is supported by discussions about national identities and human rights stemming from their US history/social studies curriculum. In these discussions, students consider the right to education and consider different forms of education, formal and informal, represented in the lives of both Packer students and Ndonyo Wasin students. Packer students learn that the Samburu value and depend on many forms of education, in and out of school.

Middle School students connect with Ndonyo Wasin students through the exchange of pen pal letters. Under the guidance of their advisors, students are encouraged to make inferences about their pen pals individually and the Samburu culture in general. From there, students consider their own reactions to the letters they receive and craft responses with an eye toward deepening these established relationships. As the pen pal program continues and these relationships grow, students have the opportunity to take a thoughtful look at the cultural differences between their worlds, while at the same time celebrating the many similarities.

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