Chickens. Eagles. And The Griffin

‘I am a breeder of eagles, not chickens.’ That’s the famous quote attributed to the late Dr. G.W. Griffin, the brains behind our school, which we love so much, The Starehe Boys’ Centre. He used to say this to imply that at his school, he produced the very best and nothing but that. And as his stooges, we strove to match up to the eagles’ tag that he placed on us…and we sure did match up. On Monday, the 2013 KCSE results were released, and Starehe did dismally. From a school that perennially held a stranglehold of either of the top two slots countrywide, in the results released by Education Cabinet Secretary, they were 17th, producing only one candidate in the top 100 list nationwide. Damning. Pretty damning.

I left the school in 2008 and obviously there’s nobody known to me from among the current crop of Starehians. So the question is, why should their results cause me so much discomfort and disappointment as evidenced by my twitter rants with fellow Old Boys, Martin, Peter, Eugene, Dedan etc on said D-day? Well, first of all, brilliant question. Where do I start? You never really get to leave your school. You just stop being a student there, but nonetheless, you remain a member of the institution. I remember as a student, we used to be really close to the then already alumni (Old Boys as we fondly call them and ourselves) and they’d often tell us ‘I am Starehe Damu (Starehe Blood)’ or ‘I bleed Red and Blue’ in reference to our famous colours. So I hope this goes some way to explain why we take anything related to our school so personal.

As I elucidated sometime in 2012 here, Starehe is heaven to some of us. It is the place where we found ourselves, became groomed, got taught valuable life lessons, and as we sang, the place where we became men. We were taught that despite our often humble backgrounds, we were just as good as any other boy on the planet, if not better. Failure was never an option in Starehe. One had to compete hard and smart…and win. Those who know me personally will attest that I may not speak much, but damn right when it comes to competition, I can be annoyingly fiercely competitive. I shudder to think that trait of me would have been nurtured and ingrained in me elsewhere. I don’t know if this has changed, but in our time, in the calling letter a successful candidate received from Starehe, was a letter to the parent/guardian. It began with the words that I’ll never forget, ‘Your son is now joining a great school…’ If there was anything that the then 13 year old me needed for me to get sold to the Starehe dream and doctrine, that line was it.

We live in a culture where people are aloof, distant and indifferent to their former schools’ performances in national examinations if none of the kids in their family sat for said exam. It’s a culture that disgusts me, to be honest. We go on and on about how children are the future, leaders of tomorrow and all that now-annoying cliché, but never seem to bother to know how they perform. And I’m saying this reeling from heavy criticism by friends who feel I have too much time to waste, moaning about results that are of no use to me. Wow! Isn’t it just amazing how different people think? One of the greatest lessons at Starehe was ‘be your brother’s keeper’. It didn’t matter who they were or where they came from. As long as they wore the Red and Blue, they were your brother and you had to concern yourself with their well-being. That didn’t stop when we left the great black gates on General Waruinge Street for the very last time as students. It doesn’t stop as long as you live. That’s why it hurts us that our brothers are failing in their duty (yes, it’s a duty) to follow in the footsteps of us and those who’ve trodden on that immaculate highway from the gate before them. We can’t help but ask all sorts of questions. Are we admitting the right students? Are our teachers motivated enough? Is the school’s administration keeping with the ideals Griffin? Are traditions being upheld? And the changes being made, are they adding value positively to the life of a Starehian? Do our boys believe that they ought to be better than everybody else, especially from that school whose great Principal once said of Starehe, ‘get this dirt out of my doorstep’? And, finally, just what the hell is going on at the best school in the world (oh yeah, we believed rightfully that we were).

You can’t win all the time. That is true. But also true is that if you tried all the time to win, you’ll always be at the top or close to it. We all suspect that they are not trying hard all the time, like tradition dictates and demands. Then again, I wouldn’t like to air the very intricate fabric of the dirty Starehe linen to the public. One just hopes that this is just a blip and that a rescue plan is on the works.

Dr. Griffin’s last words to his dear boys were something to the effect of (didn’t quite cram them adequately):

‘My dear boys

I have had a fruitful and happy life, and I have learnt one great lesson that I would like to share with you. I hope that Starehe will always teach this lesson – for as long as it does so, it will remain a great school.
This world is full of people who do their duty half-heartedly, grudgingly and poorly. Don’t be like them. Whatever is your duty, do it as fully and perfectly as you possibly can. And when you have finished your duty, go on to spare some time and talent in service for less fortunate people, not for any reward at all, but because it is the right thing to do. Follow my advice in this and I promise you that your lives will be happy and successful.
May God bless you all.’

Yes, it was something along those lines, and we were mourning at the time, hence the half-baked rendition from me. The great school is fast hurtling to the oblivion of mediocrity, but I have a feeling that maybe the secret to reclaiming old glory lies somewhere within the grand old visionary’s last words. You hope that everyone actively involved in the affairs of the school currently goes back and reviews what Griffin would have wanted.

Two bugles to give the call to duty, numerous stars to illuminate the endeavours of the Starehian, the Red Lion to warn of our invincibility and the mythical Griffin (half eagle, half lion) to remind us who started all this makes up the Starehe Boys’ Centre’s badge. At a time like this, the badge should be the greatest source of inspiration and hope in the institution’s ability to bounce back. I sure hope the current boys look at it that way.

Chickens aren’t bad. Heck, they are tasty! Starehe has bred and must always breed eagles though. That’s just our style, The Starehe Way, no offense, ye lovers of chicken. God bless Starehe. Natulenge Juu.


The mythical Griffon, soaring high above.