What's in a name? Why Chetoto primary school stakeholders want the name changed

A signpost of Chetoto Primary School in Kitale named after marabou stork bird (inset), with its logo bearing images of the birds. [Martin Ndiema, Standard]

In the early 1980s, residents of Kipsongo slum on the outskirts of Kitale town saw the need to start a school for their children whose population was rapidly growing.

John Esto, then a carpenter, and his compatriots rallied the community around the idea and Chetoto Primary School was established.

The school earned its name from marabou stork, a scavenger bird that preys on carcasses. The birds, called ‘chetoto’ in Luhya, were a common sight, attracted by Bondeni dumpsite and an abattoir nearby.

However, the community’s joy of starting their own school was short-lived. The institution has over the years been dogged by low enrollment and poor performance.

It is ironical that Kipsongo slum has a population of over 3,000, yet the school is struggling to get enough learners.

Some residents blame the management. “They do not admit our children claiming we are unable to raise funds for their educational needs,” says Moses Lutome.

However, for many, including Esto, now a bishop in a local church, the name is the problem, and they want it changed.

They say the Chetoto bird is associated with filth and squalor, and now want the school called ‘Baraka’ or ‘Bahati’, in the hope that this will bring more blessings or luck to the institution.

Marabou stork birds on one of the trees adjacent to the Ministry of Information offices in Kitale town. [Courtesy]

Monica Tobos, a resident, laments over the poor state of hygiene in the area. She cites broken sewers, improper waste disposal and poor housing plan. According to her, to associate their school with such conditions is a curse.

“We need to rethink this name since the Chetoto bird is a bad omen to us. Just like when you name your child Bahati she could end up being lucky in life. Chetoto implies a filthy place, with high poverty levels,” says the mother of four who has lived in the area since her childhood.

Deliberate on the issue

African Inland Church (AIC) Kitale Bishop Benjamin Tarus said as the sponsor they have noted the proposal and will act upon it.

Bishop Tarus said the church council will sit and deliberate on the issue.  Thereafter, the Christian Education Department Committee will collect views before a final decision is made.

“I expect further conversation on this topic with other relevant stakeholders and the locals,” he said.

The church’s Christian Education Department Committee Secretary, Reverend Macray Wachilonga, urged members to suggest new names for consideration by the sponsor.

Joshua Ewoi, a professional, says renaming the school is not meant to erase its history. “We are not erasing history, we are just erasing a symbol of poverty, and it’s a low-stakes way to have a public conversation about history, what we value, what our morals are. It’s a normal process,” said Ewoi.

Lutome, like many residents, believes changing the name of the school will also attract well-wishers and the government to help develop the school.

“We think it’s important for the name to be representative of the area in which the school is located. The community and alumni are perturbed with the current name,” he said.

Tobos says changing the identity, including the logo, is long overdue.

“The school should not be named again after any one of these birds. That is absurd. ‘Bahati’ or ‘Baraka’ is fine. I look forward to that big day”.