Today was our first day in the school. Surreal. It felt so out of place and so common place at the same time. We took the Matatu to our placement, which was about a 15 minute drive away. We then walked for another 10-15 minutes through community marketplaces to get to our school. Once there, we were immediately greeted with smiles and waves. The children were so excited to see volunteers, especially Mzungus (which is the word for white people).
The children at the school range in age from about 7-14, although the children who attend the school aren’t the only kids there. Dozens of children are around but not in school, at least not Gladways, the school we were at. I am not sure how the schooling in Kenya works, but throughout the day, random kids joined our games and left when they decided.
The school buildings were nothing more than pieces of tin and hand cut wood. Wood braces with tin nailed to it for walls and ceilings. Some of the classrooms are lucky. They have an old, scratched-up chalkboard. Others don’t. Some have wooden planks for chairs and desks. Others have rocks to sit on. Books of any kind are hard to come by. Paper even harder. To say they have no supplies is an understatement. As much as the crayons and markers that we brought are going to help, the things we can’t bring are the things they need most. Concrete. Walls. Ceilings. Wood. Water. Those things can only be bought in town.
Volunteers have helped, for sure. Helped raise funds to purchase materials. Helped build rooms for schools, toilets, and churches. Helped decorate and paint so that the weather and termites won’t destroy the school’s new found riches. Every little bit counts because every little bit is appreciated, by the community and by the students.
The school we are at has a little over 100 students. Some walk over an hour just to get there. Some don’t have a home outside of the school. Some have even been adopted by the school’s founder, Mary. But when it comes to school, there is no difference at all. The kids are there to learn and experience. What I find most amazing is that across a world and amongst different cultures, the children are all the same. It doesn’t matter if you speak English or Kiswahili. It doesn’t matter if you live in privilege or poverty. It doesn’t matter if you learn with a Smartboard or a stick. We all are the same. We all learn.
The day we went was the day after midterm exams. It was a half day at our school. It was less structure of academics and more free play. We have tons of supplies to take them, and when our bags get here, we will. Without our donations of games and learning materials, we had to be creative. Mikayla and I combined our classes, so we had about thirty 7-10 year olds. The group I was with decided to play on a ‘big field.’ The ‘big field’ to them was just up a hill from their school. A large flat dirt area littered with trash and surrounded by cliffs on three sides, a far cry from what we would consider a soccer field.
As Mikayla and I tried to teach them the game sharks and minnows, we quickly realized the language barrier was an issue. We had to have their regular teachers translate. Still, it took a few rounds till they understood how to play. A game, similar to tag, with no equipment, no lines drawn, occupied us for an hour. The kids just had fun, playing and laughing, loving every minute of learning this new game. While it may not be something they can use on a resume, it is something new they learned that they can play anytime, anywhere. Something so simple, yet so useful. Something I take for granted.
Once we finished on the ‘field’ we went back down near the classrooms. There is a small area, about 50ft x 50ft that is shared by the school and the surrounding families. An area littered with trash, roamed by goats and chickens, and used to dump out dirty basin water.
One of the items I had in my carry on was a tennis ball. Again, supplies are hard to come by, so toys are nearly impossible. Once I brought out the tennis ball, the kids became excited and just couldn’t wait to play. The teachers and students taught us a new game. It is a combination of monkey in the middle and dodgeball. The goal is to peg the person in the middle with the tennis ball. After ten throws without a hit, more people can join in the middle. This was a game we played for almost two hours. Many other kids from the town joined us as well. The younger ones came to watch. Miss Bocian’s class joined as well, once she was done creating bracelets and singing songs with them. It was a community brought together by a tennis ball.
While we were playing, I was noticing my surroundings. While kids were watching, they were also exploring and learning. One girl took the tathers from her clothes and made a jump rope. One boy was pulling a bottle around with a string he attached. Two boys were banging trash into the ground with a rock, similar to a hammer and nails. A group of children were scraping the dirt with sticks. Everyone was enjoying themselves. Everyone was happy. I never thought playing in dirt could be so much fun.