Have you heard the news that we're building a school in Kenya?! Today I want to give you more of the why behind the vision--why is this our vision and why is it needed? The best way to get a perspective, is to hear from someone who grew up in Kenya and experienced challenges with the school system. Here's the story of Edwin, my husband:
I grew up in a small Kenyan village in the foothills of Mt. Kenya. My mom was a single mom, and we struggled a lot. I started school at age six, and I was a clever kid who always liked to come home and show my math skills to a family friend who tutored me. However, I faced a lot of challenges that left me frustrated with the Kenyan system.
When I was in primary school, my mom didn’t have a job, so we were always moving around looking for work. I would go to school for a short time and then keep being pulled out to move. I also switched schools a lot because we couldn’t pay school fees. Being sent home for school fees was the most humiliating thing. The head teacher (principal) would take roll call of all the kids who hadn’t paid in front of the other kids, and then we were kicked out of class. I was sent home from school around 6 times, and I wasn’t even the worst-off kid. Sometimes I’d miss a week; other times we’d go back and try to negotiate with the head teacher to let me stay. It’s hard to learn like this because you miss out on so much content that’s being taught, so you’re always playing catch up. The teacher would just tell you to go copy the notes from one of the smart kids, and basically, you’re on your own.
The challenges with school went beyond the fees. Back in my village, we would just go to school barefoot. There was no money to buy shoes. But when I went to school in Nairobi, I had to have them. There was a time I went to school with “fish mouth” shoes as I called them, where the whole sole of the shoe was missing and my bare heal touched the ground. When I walked, the shoe would flop. But I still used to polish them up and make them look good from the top.
Food is another problem in our Kenyan schools. In the U.S. people emphasize eating breakfast, but in Kenya we would just have tea in the morning. If you were a well-off kid, you’d go and buy a loaf of bread from the school canteen. But the rest of us were just left with our tea. It’s very difficult to learn when you haven’t eaten much.
Often in our Kenyan system, teachers only help the students who are top performers, kids who were good memorizers. The rest of us weren’t dumb, it’s just that we did things differently or took longer to understand. But when the teacher didn’t pay attention to the rest of the class, kids would give up so easily. And sometimes I could understand because the teachers were paid so poorly that they often had to take out loans, and they were unmotivated.
I want to create a school in Kenya to help empower kids and prevent them from going through some of the things I did. My vision is to lay a foundation that changes a generation of students and creates wave of change in the system across Kenya. It will be a place of quality and equality, where every kid, rich or poor, has an opportunity—a place where all children are recognized, celebrated, and not forgotten; a place where teachers are well- respected and passionate about their jobs.
I envision a school whereby learning is available to kids who come from a poor background, kids who wake up in the morning and think they’ll never get out of 4 mud and stick walls of their home. Kenyan kids are creative; they’re problem solvers, but there’s no resources for them, so often their ideas are lost. I want to change that, and to build more than a school—I want to build a belief system that all kids are gifted and capable as long as they are given a platform to excel and use their talents.
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