•Built in an area by then already famous for Paramount Chief Odera Akang’o’s renown affinity for education, the school embraced its strategic location in what would later become the citadel of Luo academic elitism
• Over the years, St Mary’s Yala’s strong Catholic foundation and ethos have contributed to a long list of alumni who remain firmly grounded in their different career areas
When the Mill Hill Missionaries launched the St Mary’s School on the banks of River Yala in 1927, even they may never have envisaged the school becoming a beacon of academic excellence.
Built in an area by then already famous for Paramount Chief Odera Akang’o’s renown affinity for education, the school — often known simply as “Yala” — embraced its strategic location in what would later become the citadel of Luo academic elitism as well a source of top brains for academia and the corporate world. In a way, the history of Chief Odera souring villages and sending children to school is married to the success of St Mary’s Yala.
I was privileged to be invited to join this top school in 1996, straight from my village primary school in Simerro, Ugenya Constituency. This meant I would stay within my native Siaya district to begin my high school academic journey.
As if the stars were aligning, in the year I joined the school, we emerged seventh overall nationally in KCSE exams. It is at that moment I knew Yala was not only a giant, but in my own way, I would be able to make something of my life from humble village origins. Departing in 1999, I had no doubt in my mind that the sky would be the limit for such a solid institution and for the well-molded young men it churned out.
Over the years, St Mary’s Yala’s strong Catholic foundation and ethos have contributed to a long list of alumni who remain firmly grounded in their different career areas as well as their support for their alma mater. Indeed, this loyalty recently saw the Yala Old Boys Association organise a prize giving day to reward top performers in the last KCSE, while also reconnecting with the school in to spur a new renaissance set to be driven by the school’s new administration.
During the visit, YOBA as an integral partner in the school’s development and academic growth gifted KCSE performers with laptops, tablets and cash. Best continuing students and teachers of the best performing subjects were also rewarded.
The adage that all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy holds true within the YOBA networks. The alumni appreciated Yala’s long history as a rugby powerhouse by rewarding the school with gym equipment that will go a long way in enhancing strength and conditioning for our rugby team to restore Yala’s old glory as a rugby giant the entire country. Looking at Western Kenya, Yala stands out as the best in terms of infrastructure, as nationally, very few come any close.
During our function we interacted with new chief principal Victor Makanda and as far as reputations can precede someone, he is the proverbial shining star.
Makanda became a headteacher at just 31 years of age, leading a village secondary school within Siaya county, which incidentally had just 100 students. With limited financial and human resources, he soon transformed it into one of top seven day schools in the county.
He was later posted to Barding Secondary School, from where he continued his stellar performance, especially on the academic front by sharply raising the school’s student population, academic and extra-curricular standards. Makanda likes to joke that while he was at Barding, his school would beat Yala in national exams, yet KCPE candidates still preferred to choose Yala over Barding, testimony to the fact that a big name, even when down, still attracts more respect.
Before the transfer to Yala at the beginning of the year, Makanda had been Principal of St Antony’s School, Kitale. It is in public domain that before leaving, he had turned St Antony’s into a top 10 school nationally in academics, while also reigning supreme in hockey and football. If St Mary’s School Yala had asked for a stellar performer to lead its next phase of achievements, they would never have found a better man than principal Victor Makanda.
A little-known fact about the current principal is that when he finished primary school, he was invited to St Mary’s Yala, but for lack of school fees, he was unable to join and instead pursued his secondary school education at the little-known Ndenga Mixed Day School.
His posting to Yala was, therefore, a long-held dream come true. It makes him typically a Yala man through and through, and you can see that in the solid plans he has for the school. To begin with, he intends to improve the mean grade this year from last year’s 7.6 to 8.5, a dream achievable for a start.
The lion is ready to rise again and roar by taking its rightful place among the country’s top academic institutions. We the alumni and the continuing students are sounding an early warning to our competitors that St Mary’s School Yala is back, stronger and better. Be it in academics or sports, we are ready to conquer all!