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What has really shook me to my core, is the realization of the dedication and discipline these young students must posses to exceed in academic life. I was not aware of how completely opposite a students life is here compared to the developed world. I believe that more people should know not only the hardships these children go through just to be in school, but the hardships they endure to remain in school. Children in Canada should now how good they have it when it comes to their education. I have reflected on my teenage self since being here and shudder at the thought of what a brat I was!
I believe my childhood was similar to the average Canadian teenager. I went to the schools that were in closest proximity to me (both primary and high school were less than a block away). I took the classes that I enjoyed and the ones I didn't, I was happy to just squeak by with a passing grade. I was given, or took, money from my parents to buy delicious, unhealthy, greasy food at the cafeteria. If I felt up to walking the half block home for lunch, the kitchen cupboards and fridge was fool of good food. I very often skipped class, either sleeping in past 10 am or going home early. I was rebellious in class, talked back to teachers often and rarely did homework. When I arrived home, it was clean, orderly and stocked full of things to eat and play with, all by the hands of my parents.
I reminisce on these things not to point out what a bad kid I was, but to outline what I believe to be an average teenage life. Schools in Canada mainly have the distinction of religion or public, with a few boarding/private schools remaining here or there for the richest of rich. Kenya has all those distinctions with the added fact that there is a lot more of them! With around 75% of the population under the age of 30, schools are growing and overflowing fast. There are a lot more boarding schools than Canada, although they cost more than the fess day school, some students are forced to travel quite a distance to school each day and when you factor in costs of travel, boarding schools can equal out. Along with day schools, boarding schools, Christian schools, Muslim schools, Kenya also has national schools. National schools are all boarding schools, they house the students that have the grades and money to get in, and they have the best kind of resources. All other schools are left to fend for themselves so to speak. Teachers must pool their own resources for the littlest things like chalk and erasers and principals must reluctantly send students home on a daily basis because the student was unable to pay their school fees.
Dispite having so much against them, students show up day after day eager to learn. After teaching at my second school here, Bishop Sulumeti secondary school, my mom and I discovered the students daily schedule.
This is the schedule for a all girls boarding school. The schools location is close to town but the students are on a such a strict outline, they rarely venture outside the schools gates. As you can see, these beautiful, bright young ladies wake up every morning between 430-5 am. A feat I wouldn't even dreaming of doing now let alone when I was 15!
Every moment of their childhood is mapped out with homework, cleaning, lessons, and prayer. When you ask them about the schedule, they aren't phased. They are grateful for every day they spend learning and not being sent home for fees. They are grateful to have three staple meals a day, the tools to keep up their personal grooming and the chance to be surrounded by girls their own age who are also eager to learn and grow together. The meals they have normally consist of chai tea and plane bread for breakfast, beans and maize for lunch and ugali, meat stew and squimaweaky (cooked greens). They are glad to have their bellies full and sometimes indulge in a snack of buttered bread sandwich. Every meal, they bring their own plate/bowl/utensil and wash it themselves each time.
I got to teach some very bright students last week. They were all so eager and excited to learn. Out of the dozens and dozens of schools in the Kakamega county, only three offer art. My work was short but sweet as the students were all just gearing up to right their end of term exams. In my small time spent with these art pupils, I was able to see that there is a small art appreciation building in these young minds and teachers. The teacher I worked with at Bishop Sulumeti Secondary school, Francisco, is a god among art gods. He started teaching art here in the 60's, retiring at the end of the 90's and is currently touring schools. He spends a few years at each school that doesn't offer art, he builds an art program from the ground up, teaches a art teacher apprentice and then leaves to find the next deserving school. Along with teaching, he holds together art collectives and galleries in the area.
It is people like Francisco and the students I have encountered that give me faith for the future of art in the area. It is through exercising the creative part of our minds that we are able enrich our lives with the simple things. It is with creativity that travel and tourism is enhanced and not only artists are born but dreamers like architects, engineers, tradesman.
It is through these students determination that I become more determined. I have seen their passion and discipline. I have seen how much they WANT to be in school compared to students in other countries dragging their feet. It's with their faith that I want to dedicate myself to helping them dedicate themselves to their studies. Overall it is in the young dedication of this country that I see the possibility of growth and prosperity of the future.
CES stands for Community Education Services and at the heart of it is community. The organization serves the communities by providing assistance to the children that will flourish with proper education and who will in turn serve there community when there are done. We create circles where everyone is helping each other and overtime communities improve.
I must admit I did not know as much as I would have liked about CES before coming here. Over the past week and a half I have had the opportunity to sit in on many meetings with schools that we have students in and I have learnt a tremendous amount about what we do, how we help and how we can grow. As of 2016, we will have 23 schools signed up with CES, with 5 to 10 students sponsored in each. The students fees are not paid fully by CES but we try to alleviate a considerable amount of the stress. We also urge each school to elect a teacher to be a advocate and mentor for the CES sponsored students. This was such a wonderful idea to me because now these children have someone they can rely on, talk to and confide in. If they are sick and can't make school, we are informed and can help according. These children are the future and we want help as best we can.
You don't realize how much of a gift free education is until you hear story after story of bright, smart students being sent home because they did not have there school fees. Why must these children and families worry about paying large school fees when so many children in the western world get to (comparatively) have a carefree childhood? It is when we are becoming adults that we should be worrying about school payments and juggling the monetary budget of day to day life, not in primary school! At least I can see that it may be partly because of these trials and tribulations these children have in Kenya, that they grow up to become beautiful, smart and courageous people. I have already met so many examples of this in the CES students that have succeeded through higher learning, in the people who are working hard at making education a priority and in the community of Kakamega itself.
The students we sponsor must meet all three criteria of the program. They must be bright, driven and needy. Although CES would wish very much to help all the needy students, by sticking with this criteria, we ensure we are investing in the future of Kenya and hopefully creating a better tomorrow. We hope to see these students able to complete all of there grades in high school, move on to college or university and finally find a suitable job where they are working to sustain there lives but also contributing to their communities.
As I spend more and more time here, I begin to marvel at how hard people work to keep the education system running for all children, no matter the means. The back bone of these schools and their communities, are in the teachers, principals, PTA members, parents, and volunteers of organizations like CES. These are strong, determined people that I feel proud and honoured to have meet and interacted with. The knowledge I have of the things they have gone through to help children get to school is only the tip of the iceberg, that I am sure of. Most of whom get paid little to nothing at all.
How can a society value and promote the education of its future, the children, when they pay teachers so little? I met a recent graduate of the CES program that will move on to become a teacher with a salary starting at 250.00 Canadian dollars a year. This money of which she will try to support her parents and 12 siblings with. How can a society grow and flourish when it's education system asks the world of it's supporters? PTA members, non profit members and teachers are forced to volunteer there time and funds to pay school fees, school supplies, school upkeep, and so much more.
I do not want to dwell so much on the problem but on future. I wish I could tell you more about and sing the praise of every last education fighter I have witnessed but the list would go on and on. I want to let you know that there is power on the ground here. There are community members that value that children need education to grow and will fight for the right of education. I have seen the fire burning in there eyes and I have no doubt they can produce a brighter future for these communities/