By Skyler Noordhuis
As a child growing up in a middle class family, it was easy to take for granted exactly how lucky I was. I would wake up comfortable and warm in my bed each morning, get dressed in my clean clothes, eat a fulfilling breakfast, and head off to school. After a “long” day at school, I would return home, have another meal, watch some cartoons, and go to bed. Rinse, repeat. In my eyes, those six hours I spent at school each day were more of a burden than a blessing. During the winter months, even the tiniest snowfalls brought prayers for snow days, and my tiny mind was constantly preoccupied with the next opportunity to miss school. However, my privileged childhood is far from the standard. For the children living in the mountain village of Kikima, Kenya, education is a privilege that not all of them are able to afford. My name is Skyler Noordhuis, and in this episode of A Place for Passion, I will be investigating the state of education within Kenya, and the key role it can play in breaking the cycle of poverty. I will be focusing on the efforts of the canadian-based non-profit organization “Creation of Hope” and what they are doing to give the children of Kikima (a small community in southern Kenya) access to an education that can help them achieve what they are truly capable of, and break the cycle of poverty.
Now before I address the main issue of this podcast, I feel I should probably give a background on the organization in question. Creation of Hope is an organization created by the Canadian author, Eric Walters. You may have heard of him. He’s written a variety of books, including We All Fall Down, Alexandria of Africa, Shaken, as well as a huge variety of other books, including both teen fiction novels, and story books for children. Besides being an author, Eric is also an ex-teacher, social worker, and York University Alumni. Not to brag, but he’s also kind of a friend of mine.
To say that Eric is a kind and giving individual would be an understatement. Despite humble beginnings, Creation of Hope has become a driving force for change within the community of Kikima. Perhaps the most compelling story, and one that most accurately depicts Eric’s kindness and drive for change, is the story of Mutuku: the Orphan who started it all.
[Sound Clip 1]
Mutuku was the first orphaned child to be sponsored by Creation of Hope, and is now one of almost 400 children within the immediate area being supported by Eric and his organization. As you might have noticed in Eric’s story, Mutuku had to sacrifice his education in order to support his mother, as well as himself. This problem is not limited to Mutuku, and is one of the major obstacles preventing the impoverished and orphaned children of Kikima from getting an education.
In fact, in a study done by Nyambedha, of 41 students who dropped out of a school in a Kenyan community over a two year period, 68.3% of them were orphans, that’s slightly more than 2/3rds. So not only is this an issue for impoverished children in general, but is also an issue extending to the children who are left to support themselves. When it comes down to it, there’s only one major reason for the students to drop out, and that’s money.
When I asked Eric what he recognized to be the major issue preventing children and orphans from getting their education, he immediately honed in on economic issues.
[Sound Clip 2]
That’s right. 12 Dollars for a uniform. Compared to prices here in Canada, that seems like a small drop in the bucket. But that’s the reality for a lot of the children in Kikima. In the summer of 2014 I actually went to Kenya to volunteer with creation of hope. While I was there I working as a photographer for the yearly birthday party that they host for the Orphans, as a lot of them don’t even know their birthdates.
During the trip, I had the privilege of visiting the homestead of one of the children that my family personally sponsors as part of Creation of Hope’s program. When we visited, we began to notice that the children living there did not have shoes. These kids walked back and forth from school everyday, but as far as we could tell they didn’t own a single pair of shoes. So we asked our driver, who had brought us to the homestead, “Where are their shoes?”
His answer? “They eat their shoes.”
Now, this obviously threw us off. What did he mean, they “eat their shoes?” So we asked, and explained simply, “They can either eat, or get shoes.”
And I think that really clearly outlines the kinds of sacrifice these kids are making in order to get an education. A lot of these kids don’t have the money to provide for themselves the basic requirements for life. Given the choice between education and self preservation, the latter always takes priority. And this is where Creation of Hope truly steps in and makes all the difference.
[Sound Clip 3]
And it doesn’t end there. Not only does Creation of Hope provide educational support for the orphans and children, but they also have monthly food distributions for the orphans, and their extended families. On top of that, they also provide necessities such as “mattresses and blankets, tools, livestock, school supplies and clothing.” (creationofhope.com).
With all of these supplies being provided to them, the choice between education and self preservation no longer has to be made. And this has led to a happier, healthier community. And on an individual basis, the benefits are clearly seen.
But the problem of education extends far beyond the needs of the individual students. As Claudia Buchmann states in her article for Africa Today, “Due to severe budget constraints, rising foreign debt, and a limited distributive capacity, African states have not been able to supply enough schools, teachers, and materials to keep pace with educational demand. As a result, continued educational expansion has come at the expense of school quality.”
It should be noted that that was written back in 1999. However, what was written largely remains true. Educational quality is still poor in much of Kenya, especially outside of larger cities such as Nairobi. As it stands, there is still a lot room for improvement within the education system.
Keeping in mind that Eric himself used to be a teacher, I asked for his opinion on what needed to be done to improve the system.
[Sound Clip 4]
As Eric mentions, not only are teachers paid insufficiently, discouraging them from doing their job, but there is also a level of discrimination present against a population of the students.
Anita, Eric’s wife, and co-founder of the organization, also adds
[Sound Clip 5]
Change is possible, and it’s happening. It may be slow, it may not have immediate results, but there is a concrete, tangible change occurring in the Kenyan education system. And it’s not just Creation of Hope bringing about that change.
Nanjala Nyabola, a Kenyan columnist for The Guardian, works with a community within the Kibera district of Nairobi.
Kibera is best known for being one of the largest slums in Kenya, and is a prime example of where change is desperately needed. In 2004, Starrays Hope Academy was founded in order to provide the children in the immediate area with access to free education, as well as counselling services, health services, and a safe haven for at-risk kids.
One of the major issues they found when setting up the school was that there was a significant number of children experiencing sexual violence within their homes. In order to protect them, a dormitory was set up in what was previously the teacher’s lounge.
In total there are now around 60 people living on the school property, including 42 children, as well as a variety of staff members responsible for caring and providing for the children.
Members of the staff include teachers, caretakers, as well as community members who have committed to helping the children in any way they can.
By all counts, this school is not a charity case, but rather a community project formed from the hard work and dedication of local teachers and parents.
It’s cases like these that provide hope for a better future within Kenya. Despite all of the negative conditions working against many of the communities, it’s organizations like Creation of Hope that are able to provide help and encouragement to those who need it most, and bring change to a country that desperately needs it.
In time, I believe that organizations, both local and from all around the world will be able to lend a helping hand in reforming the Kenyan education system, and make it possible for any child to be successful and achieve a happy, healthy life.
As this episode comes to an end, I would like to make some acknowledgements. To begin, I would like to make a big shout out to my mom for being super supportive of me and my tendency towards procrastination, as well as her role in helping me get in contact with Eric. As well, I’d like to thank both Eric and Anita Walters for allowing me to enter their home and interview them on an issue that I know is very dear and personal to them. Lastly, I would like to thank freestockmusic.com for the fantastic royalty free music they provide, and that was featured in this episode. Last but not least, I would like to thank my TA, Keith O’Regan for being supportive, kind, and supplying a nice dose of laughter in each tutorial.