This week’s speaker is Mike Welsh, a true Swindonian, a Rotarian at Swindon Old Town and resident of Bishopstone. Mike shares some of his life and his passion for the Desai school he created in Niarobi Kenya with John Isles.
John: Mike welcome and can I start by asking you to tell us a little about yourself and I understand you are a Rotarian in the Swindon Old Town Club?
Mike: Hello John. Well, I’m married with a total of seven children and eight grandchildren. We all have challenges in life: I’m 64 years old, have a son of five years and twins at three, and will probably have to work until I’m 82!
James, Lily and George
I have been a Headteacher for 29 years, 23 of which as Head of Goddard Park Primary in Park North. I work three days a week, and a Deputy Head acts up for the other two. All my contemporaries have retired, (and three have become Rotarians) leaving me as the oldest Head in Town. My wife is a Reception Teacher and we live in Bishopstone, a village eight miles to the east of Swindon. Four years ago, I was National President of the NAHT (National Association of Headteachers).
I joined Rotary with Swindon Old Town in 1999. I’m currently Senior Vice President and take over as President from Steve Parsons next July. We are a breakfast Club with lots of laughter and have a vibrant start to each Wednesday.
John: I know you have been heavily involved in a project with Desai Memorial Primary School in Nairobi. How did this come about?
Mike: My daughter, Zoe, was travelling in Nairobi as part of an Advanced GNVQ field trip. The students stopped at a slum-area community school housed in some tiny corrugated-tin rooms. Zoe, as a 17 year old, wrote a poem ‘The Six Classrooms’ about this experience which captured me and many others.
The Six classrooms
6 classrooms made from iron
6 classrooms built upon sewage infected land 6 classrooms with views
which caused my heart to weep
6 classrooms of poorly clothed and dusty children
6 classrooms bare, no pens, reading books or learning tools
Computers – what are they?
6 classrooms with young bodies crushed together struggling for space and air
6 classrooms full of happy and eager children with beaming smiles from ear to ear
6 classrooms bursting with children’s laughter and song
6 classrooms filled with children proud to attend their community-created school
6 classrooms full of children with the desire to learn and the will to work
We twinned Schools in 1998.
It was after presenting about the School to Rotary that I was invited to join.
John: I see you have several Partner Schools involved in the Project. What sort of input do they have?
Mike: All the Schools involved study life in Kenya as part of the Primary School curriculum. They raise small funds and send materials to Desai.
Some Staff have visited Nairobi and witnessed at first-hand how children respond to the very dedicated teachers at a slum-area school, in one of the world’s poorest and toughest communities. On one visit we met Marilyn who had not been at School for two days, only to find she had not eaten for three days. We found she was far from unique in going hungry. From this we resolved to set up a school lunch for the children.
John: To change the subject a moment, what hobbies and interests do you have outside work and Rotary – assuming you have time?
Mike: I have great regard for my Town, and spend a lot my time on two major projects – working as part of a group working to develop what I would term the Great Western University in Swindon and north Wiltshire, and a Supporters’ Trust (TrustSTFC) involved eventually in the running of Swindon Town Football Club.
The Trust recently arranged with the Club for 3,500 children and parents to have free attendance at a match, which turned out to be an amazing day.
Relaxation comes from attending the cinema, but I get enormous enjoyment from playing and reading with my young children.
John: As you know we are an eRotary Club and whilst we want to help as much as we can in our Communities and projects, how do you feel we might help you achieve your aims? (I am sure a Foundation Grant might be available?)
Mike: Desai is a pebble in the international pond, but it is one which makes a difference to hundreds of vulnerable young lives. After the purchase of land and building of the School in 2001, the School, which is run by a Trust (majority of whose members are Rotarians), is now in need of a major upgrade. This would provide a new toilet block, electricity, water security, and the fitting out of a kitchen to provide the vital midday meal. We are seeking a Global Grant with a fund-raise of £9,000 to gain £31,000. The Rotary Club of Nairobi South has confirmed its support. To date we have achieved £6,200.
John: Finally an off the wall question.! If you were stranded on a desert Island what record and book would you most want to have with you ? (CDs and Kindles haven’t been invented yet….!)
Mike: I think we’ve all had a brief thought about this – especially the record. I would enjoy being inspired and uplifted, but having only one choice is the real issue.
Record – ‘One fine day’ from Madame Butterfly or perhaps it should be more appropriate to have ‘One day I’ll fly away’ by Randy Crawford, or even ‘Time to say goodbye’ by Andrea Bocelli and Sarah Brightman.
Book – The Forest is my Kingdom (Carruthers) is about an Eskimo boy, Bari, who receives some colouring pencils from a Mountie, which colour his life.
John: Mike many thanks for sharing with us.
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