Our friend Francesca had told me a couple weeks ago that she volunteers at a school - Jukumu Letu -for disadvantaged youth in a town just outside Nairobi. As I wanted to experience and see this side of Kenyan life, I asked if I could tag along on one of the days she was going there. Luckily she went last week (my last free week before f/t work) so I joined. The trip out there was an experience in itself. We had to take a matatu about a quarter of the way, walk ½ mile down a busy highway, then catch a bus for the final part of the journey.
Once in the town, we walked through the muddy dirt paths to the school. The staff were very welcoming and eagerly showed me around. It was intense to hear the stories of the children and mothers and see the little ones. Seems the kids are from the local slum and the moms have to make a commitment to better themselves (Jukumu Letu means 'your own responsibility' in Swahili) to have a chance to enroll their children. The school provides daycare for the toddlers and early primary education for the older ones. It was very clear that there is high demand for their services and I asked how they choose which kids can enroll. They explained that the moms need to commit to working at the school one day a month and pay a very small fee per day for their kids to attend (about 11 cents). This still leads to a waiting list but one of the key other factors led me almost to get emotional. Seems many moms who don’t have this day care as an option would just lock their kids in their shacks for the day. If the school hears about this then they will do everything they can to get the child enrolled. This was not even enough in one recent event, one of their pupils was not in school last month due to illness but still the mom had to work, so when the child was left home alone, something caught fire and little one was killed.
Obviously it was very tough to hear this when looking at all the smiling and happy faces surrounding us and then thinking of all the other kids that don’t have the opportunity to come to the school.
The staff also explained that kids live in very basic homes and come to school filthy, so the first thing the staff does when they arrive in the morning is clean them up and then put them in clean clothes that have been donated. The toddler section was very basic with a nursery for the youngest, a simple library, and a couple very small classrooms where they do some basic instruction. On the grounds was also a workshop where some of the moms work doing sewing projects.
Down the street is the elementary school for the older kids (5, 6, & 7 year olds). This location was even more simple than the kindergarten, just a small common area and two very small, basic classrooms. The staff explained that they make sure the teachers are qualified and these instructors are highly committed to the project since they do not earn as much as if they worked in a more mainstream school. I cannot begin to explain how excited the kids were to have visitors, they were bubbly with joy and their smiles resonated. Francesca works with these older kids on art projects. As there is no money for arts and crafts she brings some basic supplies and leads them through projects that allow them to express themselves. I put together a video showing the school, Francesca’s project, and the kids’ reaction.
While the physical setting and stories of the children were not so much of a surprise, since we all have seen and heard news reports and documentaries on how education is in the developing world, still experiencing it first-hand left me deeply moved.
The commitment of the teachers, staff, and volunteers to these children and how happy the kids are with just the smallest amount of care and affection was beautiful. Of course, I could not help but be thankful for the privileged life we live as Westerners and how lucky we are to be born into our circumstances.