#24 2014 The August Tutoring and Another Small Miracle

#24 2014 The August Tutoring and Another Small Miracle

One of the 4 visitors, Veronica, wanted to go home to get some “home clothes”, so she left Sunday, promising to return today It’s now 9:30 pm and she is not here. Her father had wanted her to stay, but evidently she was insistent. Once they go home, it’s hard for them to come back. I hope she does come back b/c she really needs to be here.

The rest are thriving, having a great time and also making great strides I worked my 14 kids hard today from 9 – 12. After that several boys who had come from Ndingi and Fr. Abraham high schools had questions from their mocks they wanted to ask. I finally folded up at about 1:30, just in time to greet James Njoroge, coming from Nairobi with my order of Christmas ornaments and some beautiful baskets. I hope people as home like my treasures as much as the girls do. They oohed and aahhd, especially over the paper bead necklaces and matching earring sets and the taka taka earrings made from flattened bottle caps.

In the meantime, I had received a call from Regina Muchemi, an old friend from 2005, whom I met at Archbishop Ndingi. She is a crackerjack math/physics teacher with whom I worked very closely until she left Ndingi and went to teach at Naivasha Mixed (now all boys). Now she teaches in a rural high school so has visited me only once this summer, but she was in town and wanted to stop by.

It was great to see her, happy and healthy, neither of which has been a constant in her life. She brought 12-year old Jenny, who has always been very shy with me, but this time at least she looked at me and answered questions, albeit monosyllabic-ally. She loves peanut butter toast, as does Regina, so I fixed same along with tea, which they had as we chatted. Acting on an idea and a hunch, I asked whether she was willing to review physics with Quinter and Cynthia. (FYI I was mistaken in the last blog, Quinter wants engineering, while Cynthia wants med school.)

Regina agreed immediately and was pleased to be asked. I knew she would, but it does seem something of a miracle that she came today, out of the blue and when the 2 girls had time and really wanted the help. At some point in our conversation she had mentioned that Jenny’s poorest subject was Kiswahili, so while Regina, Quinter and Cynthia poured over the physics mock, I found Yvonne who is good in Kiswahili and was quite willing to teach Jenny. What 12-year old wouldn’t jump at the chance to be tutored by a high school senior! She was smiling happily when I fetched her from the dining room when mom was ready to leave.

I retired to my room to read and write emails, leaving these small groups at work. Other girls were working through their business studies mock. Regina spent a good 2 hours here, leaving only b/c the sky threatened rain and it was getting late. C & Q were very pleased, b/c Regina is so good and so patient and so thorough. She’s just what they needed. As she left she touched me when she said, “Margo, you taught me something—that it is so good to share your gifts (teaching) freely. Here we think we should be paid, but I now know how good it feels to just give.” To tell you how good she is, her physics students were #2 in the district (like a county). This is a small rural school where students generally don’t do too well and most don’t go on to university. When I told Cynthia and Quinter her students had a mean grade of 7.4 (out of 10), which is really high for even a great school, they were majorly impressed, which they should be.

I am really thrilled with how this crazy idea is working out. The only important class we don’t have covered is Chemistry, but Ruth is coming back tomorrow afternoon for more English, with Regina coming Wednesday and possibly several other times. When we first talked about having 4 girls stay here, I thought we would just work on math. Now it has turned out to be almost everything – a small miracle!

This evening Edith came in with her math mock and we sorted out the remaining questions she had been unable to work. When she declared she now understood, I sent her off to practice more problems of those types. She has struggled with math and had eventually given up and was failing. Several weeks ago Ruth had asked me to talk to her and encourage her. I was pleased when she decided she wanted to come here. She says she thinks she is learning a lot and is loving being here with her friends.

As I often mention, I don’t like cooking, but from time to time I must. As dinner approached I realized I had nothing in my refrigerator – or so I thought. Earlier I’d sent 2 girls to the small market across the road for produce, including 2 butternut squashes, which is known here as pumpkin. (Our pumpkins don’t grow here.) I cut them apart, removed the seeds and steamed them while Edith and I worked at my table. After they cooled I removed the outer rind and mashed the flesh with lots of butter, some salt and cinnamon. In the back of the refrigerator I found a small leftover hamburger patty. That plus the pumpkin and a salad made a great dinner.

The girls always want to know what I’m eating, cooking or doing. When I mentioned the pumpkin they responded as many others have, “Ugh! I don’t take pumpkin.” “That’s OK, others have told me that and ended up eating a big bowl, so when this is done I’ll let you taste.” After my dinner I walked over to the dining hall with the pumpkin and some spoons. Hesitatingly they took a small taste, and sure enough, they ate almost all I had – RATS! That was part of tomorrow’s dinner. Yvonne who is quite demonstrative, declared, “I love you Margo, you’re such a good cook!” Yeah, right! But they did love the hamburger dinner and the eggs n toast I made them the first day.

It’s not all work and no play and these girls are not dull. They are really enjoying being here with classmates Magdalene, Cynthia and Selina, residents of the children’s home. All help with the cooking and cleaning up as well as laughing, dancing and doing girl stuff. Tylon, 8th grade, is Cynthia’s brother and a sweet, fun kid. He’s loving having all these cute girls around and since he’s the only male near their age, they give him lots of attention. He is lapping it up and showing his silly side.

I forgot to mention on Sunday I had been invited to lunch by Simon Kingori and wife. He was the parish council chairman some years ago while the church was being built. He and the committee became so close they decided they wanted to do another project together, so they pooled their funds and bought some land not far from SFG. In time they built St. Claire’s girls high school, which is doing very well. They’ve been in business about 5 years longer than SFG and I was mollified to know they experienced the same bumps along the way that we have. One always imagines that starting a school will go fairly smoothly and that’s true, except for when it isn’t. Our girls did very well on the 2010 KCSE, dropped a bit in 2011, dropped a lot the next year and improved last year, but not enough. In the low year there were some real problem students who had to be expelled, but not before they were signed up for KCSE and the law requires they must take the exam once they are on the list.

In addition, the constant poaching of teachers by the government schools, means a high teacher turnover, always hard on kids. Simon allowed that St. Claire’s suffers from the same poaching problem, which isn’t likely to stop, as more and more children are going to school. In time more government high schools will be built, more teachers will retire and more of our teachers will be lured away by the higher salaries, pensions and job security (they have tenure and must do something highly egregious to be sacked). We can offer none of those perks, so young teachers come to the private schools, learn their craft then go on to government schools, which reap the benefits of the training they get at SFG. It’s a bummer, but not much can be done about it.

I’m so sorry I forgot all about pictures. I’ll try to remember to take the camera tomorrow for the math sessions in the morning and the English in the afternoon. I’ll get Regina on Wednesday.

I leave a week from tomorrow. This has been one of my best summers, although there are many things I didn’t do, people I didn’t see. What I did do, I feel very good about. Whenever I leave I wonder whether I’ll be able to return in 10 months. A lot can happen in 10 months, but I don’t feel my work here is complete. My plan is definitely to return, but the best laid plans…..

I’ve pondered why I feel such a strong connection with Africa. I don’t have answers, but I can’t deny that this is another home for me, a place where I feel I belong.

=Love to all,
Margo

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