July 22, 2018
I think I haven’t posted for more than a week—not because I had nothing to report. Quite the opposite, I’ve been so busy I’ve had no time (or sometimes no energy) to write. This will be a short synopsis. I can’t remember everything.
Last Friday my 3rd visitor arrived. Julie Schatz is a past president of Menlo Park Rotary, of which I am a member. She has wanted to join me, but had to wait until her term was over. Even at that, she didn’t make the decision until right before I left. Hillary picked her in Nairobi after she missed her flight in Paris, because of a late SFO departure. It was the same problem that Mary and Kathleen Fitzgerald encountered, only in Amsterdam. In each case, the layover was short. I, too, had a short layover and a late SFO departure, but my Amsterdam connection was also late. Lesson: don’t book flights with 1-2 hours connections!!!
In the meantime, Mary, Kathleen and I had gone to Nakuru to visit Fr. Kiriti in his Wanyororo parish, which is much more rural than Naivasha. We spent the night, then he took the 2 of them to the National Park, while I spent the morning catching up with my wonderful friend, Agnes Mwamburi, whom I met in 2005. She is another woman of action, whose major passion is forgiveness, reconciliation and non-violence. She has a small foundation and is developing a program to take to high schools, mostly boys, to teach them peaceful ways to be. So far she’s gone to 1 school, where she was received somewhat skeptically, I believe, but after a few weeks the principal came to her asking, “What are you doing to our boys? They are very changed. The teachers want to be trained.” Like many good ideas, hers may fail for lack of funding, but we talked about governments departments that might be willing to fund her. She’s a doer. She will get that funding.
We were still talking over breakfast when Fr. Kiriti called to say they were finished and ready to drive back to Naivasha. By the time we returned, Hillary had delivered Julie here and she was looking around, getting settled.
The 4 of us had quite a week, Mary spending most of her time at the district hospital across the road from the church compound (where we stay). Kathleen connected with Life Bloom and loved being with them. Julie bounced back and forth between LB and SFG, just soaking up the culture, meeting people, learning about living in this part of the world. All 3 tell me this has been life-changing for them.
Thursday Hillary took Mary and Kathleen back to Nairobi, from where they’ve now gone on safari. Before they left, Mary told us about an 8-year old boy whose Tanzanian mother had abandoned him in the hospital and disappeared. Although the staff is trying to find her, that’s unlikely if she doesn’t want to be found. Yesterday (Saturday), Julie and I went to the Naivas, where we bought him a chocolate bar. Outside the Naivas is a lady who sells apples and oranges, which we bought, saving one of each for the boy (Morgan by name). We walked to the big outdoor market where everything in the world can be found and bargained for. We wanted to buy him clothing, but since we had not yet seen him, didn’t know anything about his size. We did buy a backpack so he’d have a place to keep his things, a teddy bear, to perhaps assuage his loneliness, and a jacket. Then we went to the hospital and after wandering around lost for awhile, met Nancy, a nurse Mary had talked about and loved. She introduced us to Morgan, who turned out to be a very outgoing, friendly and seemingly comfortable boy, tall for his age. A young man, caring for his small brother in the next bed, was our translator, as Morgan speaks no English. He was thrilled with our gifts, immediately attacking the chocolate, and then the apple. He offered to share with the broken leg boy in the next bed, which we thought was lovely, since Morgan probably gets few treats. That little boy refused, because he only would take something if his big brother gave it to him. Next time, we’ll know to give a bar to the brother.
We asked what he might need. “Everything.” They said. Julie and Morgan compared foot size (about the same—Julie’s are small, Morgan’s are LARGE for an 8-year old). We have a list of items, underwear, shoes (some of Julie’s) socks, pants, shirt. He told us he likes to draw, so we’ll give him my pad of paper and pencils and pens from Julie. Later that evening we had a caller, Odhiembo (Paul), the catechist, who told us he had some donated clothes in his office and would see that Morgan got some of them. We’ll fill in what else is needed.
We asked what will happen to him. If Mji were still open, he would come here, but…. Odhiembo said the local children’s department must be notified (assume the hospital has done that) and he will be sent to an orphanage or if he’s very lucky, go to a foster home. What breaks my heart is to see this boy who immediately came to us, no fear, not the least shy, clearly bright, though he knows no English and wanting to go to school. If he were at Mji, that would happen. We will continue to monitor and visit him, but in the end—what will happen? God only knows.
In the news now, as is always the case at this time of year, are reports of burning of high schools. Shocking??? You bet, and I’ve been reading about it for years. It seems there are many causes, mostly anger on the part of the students, who know no other way to vent their frustrations. Why are they angry? If the reports are to be believed, discipline is a big issue—corporeal punishment is still very common and at times it is very harsh. This is despite it’s having been outlawed by the Kenyan government and banned by the Catholic church. Every year, billions of shillings worth of belongings and buildings are destroyed. The parents are charged to repay, but many cannot. In the meantime, school is disrupted, students have lost books, papers, study guides etc. Other sources of anger are insufficient food and a lack of loving respect on the part of the teachers. They truly believe that if they don’t beat the students they will have no discipline. “Beat” sometimes means a few slaps on the hand with a rubber hose, but often boys particularly are caned. Sometimes they must kneel on hard concrete or rough ground, go dig a hole (then fill it in) or other dumb and violent measures. Clearly just outlawing corporeal punishment without offering training in alternative methods of maintaining order and discipline has not been effective and Kenya will continue to experience school burnings until something is done. Students report they have no avenue of communication with the administration about their concerns. Head teachers (principals) evidently have no sense of how to deal with teenagers.
I have talked for years about the difference between discipline and punishment, offering examples and ideas. Often the response is skepticism. Beating has been the order of the day for generations. It’s not a mindset that can change overnight. However, Julie just read me a newspaper article telling of a high school teacher who slapped a girl so hard she suffered a broken eardrum, needed surgery and developed an infection. The teacher was sentenced to 3 years in prison (a rare outcome). Some teachers and administrators in the school are being investigated for trying to cover up the incident, claiming the girl was faking her pain and suspending 12 other student who corroborated the girl’s claims. The judge, a female, did not believe the adult testimony, and gave credence to the students. This is major progress, but a drop in the bucket of this problem.
If you are wondering about SFG. I can report is the students are not planning to burn the school. I’ve pleaded, argued, confronted and offered alternatives for many years. I believe things are improving. The new principal is whole-heartedly in the camp of no corporeal punishment and I have written to my board, asking for books to bring to the school to help the teachers see other methods. Of course discipline must be maintained, but not through fear.
I don’t see fear in our students, nor anger, although of course there are incidents of misbehavior. A school of that size with no discipline issues would be very rare in any society. Teenagers are by nature a bit (or a lot) rebellious. I believe in logical consequences, being excluded from a desired event, apologies, counseling to determine the nature of the student behavior. I’ve been singing this song for 14 years, and I know that some have heard.
A big problem is that students come to school angry about treatment outside the school. It is hard for us to understand the depth of belief in “beating” in this society. Many times I’ve been told that a parent, called to school because of bad behavior (called indiscipline here), only to ask incredulously, “Haven’t you beaten her? Why? That’s what she understands!!!” If a student is suspended, she or her will certainly be beaten at home. When Mary volunteered in the pediatrics ward at the hospital, she reported many very suspicious wounds and fractures. Sometimes the nurses were instructed, “Watch that parent!” Adults were beaten as children and know no other way. On occasion I’ve asked, “Were you so stupid you couldn’t learn any other way?” Now I understand they weren’t given that opportunity.
This is a very hard topic for me to write about. I’ve grieved many years over it. At one point I thought I might quit coming, but upon further consideration, I said, “No, I can’t quit. I have to keep offering alternatives.” Eventually this will end here, as it has (for the most part) in the US. It takes a very long time to change a culture and I am under no delusions about how much change I can effect. But I must keep trying. And I am not alone. Many others have come to the same conclusions I have.