Jane introduced us to the founders of the Mathare Outreach Community Centre who, for twenty-two years have offered education, food, love, and hope to children and their families through a variety of programs.
We were guided by Jane, Magdalene, one of the founders, a social worker, and several teachers through Mathare streets to visit several schools. Despite the abject poverty, lack of basic services and sanitation, and unimaginably poor housing, we saw a vital community. Almost everyone was busy hauling water, preparing food, building furniture by hand for sale, gathering charcoal, and running small roadside businesses. People were working hard to do the best with what they had. We also saw that our motto of "a hand up, not a handout" was being put into action, as a number of the teachers we met had grown up in Mathare and had returned to help their community. In fact, this is something we have seen throughout our travels here. Young Kenyans are using the opportunities given them to build up their country.
We visited several classrooms where the children welcomed us with singing and recitation and witnessed some really enthusiastic teachers - very commendable considering the high class numbers (40 to 100 or more), limited space, poor lighting, and few supplies. On our way to a sharing session with the teachers, we stepped into one of the school kitchens for a quick visit. ( see photo). The grade eights, who will soon sit for the very challenging national exams which determine their educational futures, entertained us with song and dance, then pulled us up to join them. Their teachers got quite a laugh watching the five muzungu proving their lack of rhythm (well, maybe not Jeannine and Sylvie).
Our sharing with the teachers revealed that we do have common concerns - special education, discipline, addiction issues, parent involvement and motivation, but these caring professionals certainly face more challenges in raising up their students than we have experienced. We were able to offer some practical suggestions, but our strongest message was to let them know how very important their work is. As Holly told them, "Teachers do the most important work in the world."
Following our professional sharing, we visited two classrooms in groups. Diane and Sheree visited a mixed grade seven/eight class where Diane presented basic information about puberty and sexual health then opened up the floor to questions. We were amazed and impressed by the thoughtful and frank questions the students asked. That they wanted to ask about the myths and misconceptions they held and did so in mixed company was very courageous.
Over in the grade seven class, Jeannine, Sylvie, and Holly also addressed sexual health topics and encouraged them to stay in school, then were thanked in song. Some discussion led to the discovery that the students knew "un peu de français" and that was all it took for Jeannine and Sylvie to break into song. Their beautiful harmonies proved that some muzungu really do have an ear for music.
What else can we say? It was a very quiet drive back to our rooms. What can we, a small group of people from Sault Ste. Marie do that might possibly make a difference? The need is so large, and we are so small. Our hearts are heavy and the prospects daunting, but all we need do is look at the faces of the children, teachers, parents, and community workers we have met to know that we and all of you who have contributed to Tumaini Afrika are making a difference.