Jambo from Central Province, Kenya! I cannot believe it is already the end of the month! The past couple of weeks here have just flown by. School settled into a routine, and then that routine was shaken up last week with the national examinations that took place for most of the week.
All the primary students, from Standards (grades) 1 through to 8 complete examinations in English, Science, Mathematics, Social Studies/Christian Religious Education, and Kiswhahili. The examinations for the Primary students are quite lengthy, and are mostly comprised of multiple choice questions. For the Standard 8 students, these examinations decide their futures, as their results determine whether they can continue with Secondary (or High) school.
We also had our visit from Dr. Tim Goddard, Dean of Education at UPEI, which was great. He was able to meet the headmasters at our schools, tour the properties, and meet the staff and students. I know the schools appreciated his visit immensely.
During the examinations, I was reminded of how little the students have at Ithanji Primary School. Some of the pencils were just the tiniest stub, and I would have thought writing with them would be impossible, but the students make do. Mr. Karinga, the Head Teacher at Ithanji, explained that many families cannot afford 9 shillings for a pencil (which is less than 25cents Canadian). The students also use razor blades to sharpen their pencils, which is very dangerous for the pupils. I witnessed the dangers first hand when a Standard 5 boy sliced open his finger while trying to sharpen his pencil for his exam. This past weekend, I was able to purchase additional pencils and as many sharpeners as possible to leave at the school, so that at least each class teacher has a sharpener or two that the students can share, to avoid the use of the razor blades. This experience was another reminder of how much we take for granted in Canada.
At Ithanji, the parents pay for an extra teacher’s salary which is not included in the government funding the school receives. Mr. Karinga explained that the parents willingly pay for an additional teacher out of pocket, and that for many families, the cost required for each student per month is very difficult to scrounge up. Again, a humbling experience because the amount we are talking about is less than $1.50 Canadian per month. Prior to travelling to Kenya, I knew (at least in theory) that even small amounts of support could make a huge difference for people in need, but I don’t think I truly appreciated just how small an amount. I know I am guilty of thinking that, as a student, I cannot support “enough” and therefore might as well not donate – unless I can donate $20 per month or something. Living here has shown me this simply is not true, and that every little bit truly can make a difference.
While talking with Mr. Karinga, I was really overcome with emotion, thinking about all the waste we have in our country while such a small amount could be channelled to make such a difference here. The Kenyan people I have met demonstrate resilience and the ability to see the good in every situation, which absolutely amazes me. There are many problems in this country, and the government does not provide the level of support that Canadians are accustomed to and take for granted. Every time I tell the teachers at my school about a program like income assistance, employment insurance, Medicare, help for mentally handicapped, assistance and support for children and orphans, maternity leaves, they are absolutely amazed. In Kenya, there just is not the level of infrastructure we so often take completely for granted (AND often complain about!); there is not even garbage collection here. People dump their household garbage somewhere on their property or by the side of the road.
I think every Canadian should have an African “reality check” in order to realize what we have. As a culture, we love to complain about the imperfections; I am not suggesting we accept areas where improvement could be made. But, I think we need to really consider our position of privilege before we complain, and remember that the majority of the world lives with but a small fraction of what we do (and probably complain far less!) And, do not underestimate how little it takes to help – think about it next time you buy something you do not care about, or waste water, or leave the lights on unnecessarily; think about what that small savings, if redirected, could do. I know I will be thinking about the students here long after I return to Canada, and I will be aiming to change my lifestyle, even just a small amount, to help as much as I can. The students are so curious, joyous, and thoughtful, and they deserve the opportunity to achieve their full potential.
Next week promises to be full of activities as well; our schools have their prize giving celebrations this weekend, and we are arranging visits to some shambas (farms) in the community, as well as visits to see the bio gas burners, and of course, the milk run with the Wakulima Dairy folks, which promises to be exciting! We will update after we take in these events! Bye for now!
Lindsay G. (UPEI B.Ed. student, 2010)