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Landscape of Nairobi, Kenya

My Kenya Diary Part Two: Schools, Singing and Sad Eyes

By Jane McLellan

Last updated: 30th July 2011

Tuesday 12th July

After experiencing my first project in an orphanage in Nairobi it was time to set off for the second project of the day. We drove for about half an hour into a very poor community and drew up at a school, where we were greeted by the headmaster and his wife. They introduced us to a class and all the teachers in the school. The children were a mixture of ages, squashed into a tiny classroom that had no glass in the windows; the walls were falling down and there were not enough desks for each child. I was really moved by the experience of meeting them and seeing what they had to deal with on a daily basis.

The children were all very polite. They stood up to greet me and sang me a welcome song, then another one and then one more! They also read me a poem. The next part of our meeting embarrassed me a little and I really felt for the kids. The headmaster told them to stand up one at a time and he explained each of their stories to me. Each story started with the same sort of thing; that the child comes from a very poor family or even worse, they don’t have a family or have been abandoned. Some of the stories were pretty horrific and I found out that some of the kids had been rescued from slums.

I will never forget their eyes. Even though they were smiling at me, there was so much sadness and suffering in their eyes. It really moved me and I had to try hard to hold it together. There were two lads in the class, both aged about 14, who had been rescued from the slums, and were so poor that they couldn’t even afford uniforms. They sat there, looking left out, and their eyes were so sad I think they will haunt me forever. I couldn’t stop glancing at them and smiling but they never smiled back, nor did they join in singing or saying prayers with the other kids. They just sat there looking hurt and tortured. It was incredibly sad, and even remembering and writing about it now brings tears to my eyes.

Like many schools in Kenya, this one is very religious. They put a lot of faith in God, praying that things will get better, and their lot in life will improve. One thing these kids need more than anything is hope. I listened to the teacher tell them that if they keep smiling and keep praying to God, then one day their lives will be better and they will no longer be poor and suffering. The teacher explained to them that my visit was a sign of this, because I had chosen to come to their school to help and that they must see me as a sign of a better future. They thanked God over and over again for my visit, while I stood there speechless and deeply moved. It’s hard to believe that these poor kids have to live like this.

The students and teachers were keen for me to speak to the class, but after everything I had heard and seen my mind went blank, and at first I couldn’t think of anything relevant or interesting to say. I was unsure what they would want to hear and what could make a difference. I started off by thanking them for their warm welcome and gave a brief explanation of why I was there visiting them. I also decided to try and give them a motivational speech about the importance of education and working hard at their studies, knowing that education and inspiration is vital to give them a better chance in life.

After a long goodbye and more singing and prayers I went and sat with the headmaster in his office. We drank coke and ate from a loaf of bread and discussed the issues in the school. He told me how many students don’t turn up to school because they haven’t eaten any food the day before; it was unbearably sad. He told me the tragic life story of one little girl and the whole time he had tears in his eyes. It is clear how much both he and his wife care about these kids and it only made me more determined to make sure we can send them some committed and caring volunteers.

It was soon time to say our goodbyes, but before I got in the car I asked the headmaster how much it costs for each family to buy one school uniform. He explained that it depends on the age and the height of the kids. I checked in my purse and found I had just enough money to buy both of the 14 year old lads a uniform each. I know a token gesture is not enough to change their life but I hoped at least they might begin to feel more a part of the class, and not feel so left out. Unfortunately, I was only too aware that there are 9 other students who I hadn’t met who also can’t afford uniforms.

It is not only uniforms these kids need, but money for food, books and other learning materials. One of the amazing ways that volunteers in Kenya can have an impact is to get involved in fundraising opportunities that can help support both the kids and teachers at this extraordinary school.

I was only on my second project of the day and there were more yet to come, and I had already had my eyes opened to some of the suffering of the kids in Nairobi. Next stop, a women’s project and a visit to another orphanage that would have a profound effect on me…

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