It has been so long since I wrote that I can’t begin to tell all, but will write about the things that come to mind.
I have not written very much about the very worrying issue sweeping Kenya, of students burning school dorms. For the past week or more the papers have been full of one school after another, with dorms blazing. Fortunately no one has been seriously injured, but billions of shillings have been lost. They claim parents of the arsonists will be required to pay, but many will not be able.
Many theories about why have been floated, the most likely of which are 1) student complaints about poor conditions, bad food, inattentive or harsh teachers, high-handed principals who refused to listen to students complaints etc. These are perennial problems, which previously ended in student strikes. 2) the problem of “leakage”, which means students finding out KCSE questions as much as 3 months in advance, so they can perfect their answers. Because the grades are curved, this really affects the ethical students very badly. It seems there has been a cartel of people who sold the exam questions and sometimes the answers as well. If has been a big-money business, obviously involving personnel at the KCSE itself. The new Minister of Education has vowed to ferret out the corruption, sac the perpetrators and plug the leaks. Evidently the leakage was out of hand last year, which explains why SFG’s marks rose only a fraction of a percent. The schools who have had this advantage are said to be the national schools, virtually all boarding schools, the big names, the ones where 90% of the class will get A (yeah, right!) The accusation has been made that those whose money line has suddenly been cut are encouraging already dissatisfied students to “burn, baby, burn”, even supplying them with petrol and matches. You might want to Google this issue to read about it. I’ve been following it in the main Nairobi paper, The Daily Nation. The last statistic I read was that over 120 schools have had arson attacks, almost all boys, but a few girls schools as well. This is said to be about 1% of the high schools, but virtually all are national schools. Very few private schools have been attacked—thus not our beloved SFG. However, last week, when the bishop came to school to celebrate mass for the students, his homily was, in part, about that whole issue. I don’t sense any thoughts about it in our students. The closing assembly will be tomorrow afternoon and students will leave for their 1-month August break on Wednesday. 3) A mid-term announcement by the Minister of Education extending the summer term by a week and prohibiting any visitors to schools. I’m not sure of the argument about extending the term, but prohibiting visitors was to limit the ”outside agitators”. Students were not pleased about the extension and I can’t say I blame them.
Sunday I went to visit an old friend, Stephen, whom I got to know when he worked as a gateman at SFG. Not only is he a very nice man, but also he loves to read. I have brought him books many times, or lent him books that eventually went to the SFG library. I wrote last year about being invited to his home for a wonderful coming-of-age celebration.
Back in Jan or Feb, all 5 gatemen were sacked for reasons I won’t go into, but in my mind totally unfairly. Stephen is the father of 7 children and has been unable to find permanent work because he refused to accept the letter given him by SFG (previous priest—not a good guy). Evidently a fairer letter will be coming from the diocesan HR board, but in the meantime his wife has been working in a flower farm to support them.
Stephen is one of those loving fathers, very much involved with the children and now a virtual house-husband. They’ve had to move to smaller quarters and I can see the stress is taking its toll on him. So sad!!!
As we talked, 2 of the younger kids brought me school papers with grades of 100%, 95%, 96%. Clearly they are bright kids and Stephen, himself, is a bright guy, very fluent in English despite a limited education (I think he didn’t finish high school, but not sure). He is determined that his children will receive a good education, but now this….. In case you are wondering, I have no influence in this issue at all.
This picture was taken as I was about to leave. Some of the small children are his and some are neighborhood kids, excited about a car parked on their very pot-holed and rutted road, and the mzungu who drove it. It’s a very poor area and not many private cars visit it and fewer wzungu (plural of mzungu).
I’ve also had time to visit Damaris, who taught the Life Bloom ladies to sew (volunteered many hours of her time). She opened a business, selling all kinds of bags, some of which I have brought back in past years. She’s a kind, generous, loving lady who is always helping desperate women, teaching them to sew. Her creativity in bag design is amazing and she loves having the opportunity to express it. As I sat in her small workshop, we discussed ideas, decorating them, various changes etc. Somehow we hit on the idea of decorating bags with beads and I thought of our sponsored student, Mary Sangok, who is now on a term break from Nairobi University and back in Naivasha. She makes some small money doing beading (I’ll be bringing some rings and key holders she made) Damaris was interested in talking to her, not only for the beading talent, but also just to help Mary. Here she is in her shop. The woman in the lower left is one of many who have learned at her knee (almost literally) Two of her machines are very old Singers, powered by foot pedal, like my grandmother had.
Today I was visited by Kennedy, about whom I’ve written a number of times over the years. I met him when he was 15 and a form 1 student who was so eager to learn that he dared knock on the door of the rectory back in 2006 to request to see Madam Margo. “May I come to your tuitioning?” That began a lovely friendship, fostered that year and the next as he and I walked together up the path to Archbishop Ndingi where, during vacation, I taught anybody who wanted more math help. That first year I think I had 8 students. As we walked he talked, of course, and I saw this earnest, idealistic young man, so full of hope for the future, although he came from a large family, so not likely to get to university. In 2008 his family were victims of the terrorism brought on by a contested election—over 1200 people were killed that spring.
The family escaped, but their house was looted and burned and they had to begin from virtually nothing, in a new area. That’s when I started supporting his school fees. Later on, when he was admitted to Jomo Kenyatta University to study medicine, I shared his support with 2 of our wonderful donors. He has now finished his 3-year course. He doesn’t graduate until November (don’t ask why, it’s nuts) and can’t look for a real job until he has his certificate. He told me some hairy tales about his rather desperate situation, trying to get small jobs in clinics, doing anything for little pay. There were times when he had no money for food nor rent, but as he said, “There is no option for giving up.” He is the role model for all the younger siblings and small relatives who have been taken in by his parents after the death of parents. He can’t go home without a job. The family is expecting him to help them. But now he has a job that supports him, though not well. He’s very upbeat and full of hope for his future.
His job is in a clinic for HIV/AIDS, where he does a lot of counseling. He believes he has found his calling and wants to start a program to educate university students about the realities of this terrible disease. He has found incredible ignorance and misinformation among these very bright young people. They are careless about their sexual contacts and then hit the panic button when they wake up the next morning. He talked about his ideas at great length and I could see his passion for his-age mates and teaching them how to be safe.
His roommate at university was one of the guys from Mji Wa Neema, David Mungai (left), about whom I’ve written. David is also finished and waiting to graduate so he can get started on his career. His passion is to go to the very rural areas to do health education among people who know virtually nothing about their bodies and the nature of disease. So while Kennedy and I were talking, in came David. Both looked absolutely delighted to see each other, these 2 wonderful young men who have prepared themselves to give their gifts to the world. It was inspiring to be with them, and fun too. They are what keeps me going, knowing that neither would have made it to university without Kenya Help and that now they are ready to give back to their people. Wow! What a high. Both hope to be able to go back to school to become MD’s, but for now they will work to gain experience.
I took almost an hour out of this to talk to my sister in Oregon and now it is after midnight. Definitely time to sign off.
Oh, but first one more picture—of the banana’s growing just outside my window! It’s so cool to see them growing. There are actually 2 trees, each with its bunch.