March 11, continued…
After lunch, we headed to the Kisaruni Girls High School. What an inspiring place! We have never seen young people so motivated to learn. They get up at 4:30am everyday to pack in as much learning as possible. When the school was started three years ago, the students were given a chance to set their own schedule. The girls initially wanted to get up at 3:30am, only allotting themselves 4.5 hours sleep! The teachers stepped in and they compromised on 4:30am wake-up, made bedtime earlier, and settled on 6.5 hours of sleep.
Their curriculum is diverse and demanding. There is a wonderful supportive community, and the girls’ excitement is infectious. This year, the first grade 12 class is graduating. Everyone is so excited for this momentous occasion, which will be the first measure of the success of this school concept. These girls are very aware of the special opportunity they have been given to learn and succeed and move beyond their lives of poverty. The school fees are provided by scholarships.
Elementary school in Kenya was made both mandatory and free after the 2002 election. President Mwai Kibaki announced this in the newspaper plan on a Friday. Although a huge step forward for the education of boys and girls, there had been no warning or planning. Schools were overwhelmed with new pupils, 1 million new students showed up to school on Monday morning and no one was prepared. Mandatory and free still did not mean all could afford to attend. We already discussed the importance of the girls in carrying water for their families, but school uniforms also cost money. Even after more barriers were removed and most children made it to elementary school, high school was still not free. Only the better students, and those who could afford it, could attend high school. High schools were generally only for boys.
The Kisaruni Girls High School is a boarding school built by Free the Children (FTC). None of the girls would have attended high school without FTC. Acceptance is extremely competitive, and scholarships for all students are provided through donations to Free the Children. The girls work very hard because high school is their first hurdle. None can afford to pay for university or college education. And so they must do very well, in order to earn scholarships to pay for post-secondary programs and fulfil their life dreams.
The parallels to the lives of Wilson and Jackson were also interesting, as the change to mandatory schooling brought them from the Maasai Mara to government schools. They also had to find financing and work hard to get to high school and then university to become the leaders they are today.
Our first stop at Kisaruni was the building site. Our task was to help build a new teacher’s accommodation building. We were oriented to our tasks. We had to carry stones, mix mortar, and start building a wall. Everyone worked hard. It was amazing to see how quickly our boys learned their jobs, even Teva (our 4.5 year-old).
When we finished building for the day, we were given a tour of the school compound by three enthusiastic and articulate students. The school has bright clean classrooms, dormitories, teacher accommodations, a library, art room, guidance room, and chemistry, biology and computer labs. There are inspirational quotes and murals painted on the walls. Everything is well designed to create a nurturing learning environment. The place was humming with positive energy.
After, we were directed to the cafeteria. We walked into a lot of clapping and cheering. Thinking we had interrupted something, we hung around the door, until we realized they were clapping and cheering for us!
The girls performed for us with song and dance and then invited us to perform with them and then alone. We were caught completely off guard. We got up on the stage, addressed the teens briefly and then chose to sing a Hebrew Song to a Zimbabwean tune from our last trip to Africa. A good way to get the adrenalin pumping!
After our impromptu performance, we had tea, snacks and conversation with the girls. They were all ambitious, hopeful, positive, and delightful. Three girls at Aubrey’s table want to be neurosurgeons! Many others aspired to be lawyers, nurses, accountants, and teachers. We can’t wait to see where they are in ten years.
At the end of the day, we celebrated Noam’s birthday with the staff. Although people do not generally celebrate birthdays in Kenya, the staff at Bogani helped Noam feel special. All the staff sang and danced for him and then did this great ritual where the birthday person has to cut the cake into as many pieces as possible, as quickly as possible, during the song. It was a bit of a calculated frenzy. Another fantastic day!
Next post…Baraka Health Clinic