Saturday, August 23, 2008

Capturing the Story: The Proposal

School begins on May 5, but there are students in classes already. Tuition is the practice of covering material that isn’t covered during the regular term over the holidays. You have to pay extra fees to attend and both students and teachers give up their holidays to prepare for the national exams. In Kakamega, one of the first schools I visited had wooden desks and black paint on the wall to make a chalk board. There was no electricity or running water but the broken-glass windows provided bright rays of sunlight. The kitchen consisted of two fires fed by huge logs over which lunch cooked in two pots. The supply cabinet had rolled up maps and one book for each teacher. The students had one small scribbler each. Not to go unnoticed, were the flowers around the school and the curious murmurs from the students about the mzungu (white person) that was visiting.

“Karibu” is “welcome” in Swahili and it is more than just a saying. When you hear karibu, tenderness and caring is conveyed in its intonation. When I walked onto the first school yard, one of thirteen that CES has sponsored students at, the principle and educators invited me in with the traditional Kenyan way, “karibu”. I learned about the similarities of the Kenyan and Canadian school system, high school being four years, with the grades referred to as “form one to form four.” Many of the staff were familiar with the geography of Canada, easily naming capital cities and happy to share their teaching time with me.

All of the Form 3 and 4’s (grades 11 and 12) were brought together to discuss ideas of healthy relationships. Integrity, faithfulness, humility, trustworthy, caring, the list was long of what they wanted in an ideal relationship. The young men and women equally identified healthy characteristics and although they spoke quiet and shyly, it was an opportunity for both of us to learn about each other. “Are you engaged?” one sharp young man from the back called out. “Are you proposing?” I answered and the class roared with laughter. We also explored unhealthy relationship characteristics which led to a discussion about quarreling, conflict and stress. This created the segway to talk about some ideas of communicating compassionately as well as how to be aware of our judgments.

Using photographs we explored feelings and expressions and the students then asked questions about Canada. We all had another laugh when I mistakenly misheard one student comment that Canada had “witch doctors.” Trying to be sensitive to the inquiry, I asked what she meant by witch doctors and more laughter ensued. I finally understood they meant rich doctors. At least it led to a discussion of the privileges Canadians have and our free public health system. What captured the moment, however, was the look the students gave the principal when they learnt the length of the Canadian school day. They are expected to be in school by 6am and in class from 8am to 4pm with only two short breaks!

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