A first time visitor to the Olchekut Supat Apostolic School – Minor Seminary (OSAS) is greeted by a large canopy of the iconic African Acacia trees which have managed to transform the huge school compound into a beautiful tranquil environment.
Located in Lemek, Narok County in a wildlife corridor just few kilometers from the Masai Mara National Park, is a true definition of schooling in the Mara.
According to Fr Benson Salonic Rector, Olchekut Supat Apostolic School – Minor Seminary, not every other school is privileged to be next to the world renowned national park, so each year new students of the school are normally taken for the Annual Mara Trip.
“We have a tradition when form one students arrive we take them for a trip to the Masai Mara to see the animals. Roastantarpukas . So here they have that special privilege,” says Fr Salonic during an interview with The Seed.
Being in Maasai land where coexistence between people and wildlife is a way of life, the school has also made environmental conservation an integral part of formation of the students.
“Having most of the boys coming from this area they are attune to living peacefully with the wildlife and so we have a very active wildlife club in the school, through which students learn and practice conservation work such as taking care of our indigenous trees in the compound,” explains Fr Salonic.
The success of the wildlife club has not gone unnoticed and during Mara Day celebrations in September 15, 2016 in Bomet, they were recognized as the best school in East Africa in terms of environmental conservation by the Lake Victoria Basin Group, which takes care of the catchment area within East Africa especially the Mara River.
OSAS was established 30 years ago by Bishop Emeritus Colin Davis to provide secondary education for the Maasai boys in the Mara explains Fr Anthony Chege, Education Secretary Ngong Diocese.
“Bishop Davis discovered that there was a problem in Mara because the Maasai boys couldn’t access education since there was no single secondary school available in the area, compared to other places. So his idea was to come up with a community school founded on Christian principals to assist the Maasai boys with the support of the Roman grant,” he says.
In 1984 Bishop Davis and his consultants sat and talked about how to establish the school, and rightfully informed the local elders of this intention and requested for a place to put up the school. The leadership of the day and the community at large appreciated that idea and as a result, decided give the school an ample piece of land.
“A local group ranch donated a 75-acre piece of land in Lemek located strategically between the National Park and Narok town so that the school is easily accessible by everyone,” explains Fr Salonic adding, “Having the school in the area was also a way of completing the mission which already had a hospital and a public primary school.”
According to Fr Salonic, construction work in the new school began and was done by among others, Fr Cornelius Schilder (who later became the second bishop of Ngong diocese).
Bishop Davis then took steps towards realizing the dream of a first secondary school in the area by writing to Rome, and the school was recognized as an apostolic school situated in the mission land. It was opened in 1987 and named Olchekut Supat (the Good Shepherd) under its first principal Fr Symon Peter Ntayia who was a former Vicar General of the diocese.
Today OSAS has become a big blessing not only to the local community through providing quality education for those with no opportunity, but also to the diocese through the promotion of vocations states Fr Salonic.
“The very first direct benefit was provision of education as the vast majority of students here today and even in the early years come from the community itself. The school is also important as it has been providing young men who join the major seminary towards priestly vocations,” he says.
Consequently, over the years OSAS has produced many priests for the Catholic Diocese of Ngong and beyond, as well as working professionals and civic leaders in the region.
About 18 local priests in the diocese are alumni of the school including the Vicar General, Fr John Ntiyesia. Another notable alumnus is Edward Karaya, Assistant Manager of Equity Bank Narok, and many leaders in the County Government of Narok.
When the school was established, it started with admitting students from Lemek Parish before getting others from far away parishes such as Kilgoris, Ngong, and even Rombo at the border with Tanzania.
“Today our catchment areas include Kericho, Bomet, Nakuru, Nairobi, Muranga, Machakos, and Mombasa. We get our boys from the missions and through the approval of parish priests where the interviews are conducted,” explains Fr Salonic.
Given the unique situation of being located in Maasai land however, sometimes the school admits boys who do not have a good background of evangelization and have not gone through catechism. “When they come here, we have a program for catechism where they are able to get first Holy Communion and even Confirmation,” says Fr Salonic.
For many years since its establishment OSAS had been the only secondary school in the Mara until the emergence of free primary education which led to other secondary schools to come up in the area. As a result, the intention of the diocese is to transform the school into a fully fledged minor seminary.
“After other education institutions came up in the area, OSAS was losing its relevance and so in 2010 John Cardinal Njue who was our Apostolic Administrator, proposed the idea to transform it into a junior seminary and initiated the process which Bishop Oballa is implementing,” explains Fr Anthony Chege, Education Secretary Ngong Diocese.
The school then embarked on putting up structures of formation such as prayer life which include having daily Masses and prayers seven days a week to enable the provision of quality holistic education.
OSAS is a single streamed school with a registered capacity of about 160 students, having around 40 students per class. That small number of students is manageable and enables the teaching and management staff to easily journey with the students explains Fr Salonic.
“You get to know the boys one-on-one over the four years and you can gauge their improvements. We have a monitoring system where for example we look at the entry behavior of a student and then we monitor whether they are declining or going up the ladder,” he says.
Today OSAS is a household name in Narok County when it comes to good academic performance and always features among the top 100 schools nationally. In 2014 it emerged the best performing school in the sub county while in 2016….However the school is more renowned for its discipline record.
“Discipline is part and parcel of life in this school,” states Fr Paul Ngeno, the Vice Rector of the school adding, “For anything to be successful in the school, discipline is vital plus it will impact the students not only during their time here in school but also in their future life.”
Fr Ngeno a teacher of Mathematics and Physics is an alumnus of the school who believes “when discipline and spirituality improves in any education institution, the academics also automatically improve.”
The soft spoken but strict teacher practices what he preaches; he was a student in the school between 1996 and 1999 where he passed with grade B+ of 73 points with a mean score of 10.4285, a record that still stands to date in the school, and which by then was the leading score in the entire Narok County.
Following his ordination he was posted back to the school in 2010 and two years later he enrolled in the Catholic University of Eastern Africa (CUEA) to pursue a Bachelors Degree Program in Mathematics Physics, where he graduated last year 2016 with first class honors.
Fr Ngeno has become a mentor and a living example of what he is offering; discipline, prayer, and hard work. He has guides the students in forming the right attitude towards education and life which has also helped to improve academic performance in the school notably his beloved subjects of Mathematics and Physics.
“Most students used to believe that Maths and Physics were the worst things to ever happen to a student in secondary school. I decided to take up the subject both as a student in the university and a teacher here in school, and I would share my experiences with them. As a result, Maths became the most passed individual subject since,” he states.
“As a student or a citizen out there if you don’t organize yourself properly and have discipline of doing the right thing at the right time then you are bound to fail, because education is for life not just for exams,” he adds.
According to Fr Anthony, OSAS has assisted a lot of boys from the Maasai community and produced quality individuals in the society, but the most significant thing is the ability for these people to come back and work in that same locality and make a difference like Fr Ngeno.
Today OSAS joins Apostles of Jesus minor Seminary, Kiserian as the two junior seminaries which are part of the 11 secondary schools and close to 40 primary schools established by the diocese to provide much need education in the region besides the over 250 primary school and 45 secondary schools that are church sponsored in the diocese.
“Education is supposed to leave a mark in your life so that in the future you may be able to respond to the challenges that are going to come your way and it is critical if any human being or society is to develop,” concludes Fr Anthony.
By Stephen Mukhongi
THE SEED MAGAZINE