For some reason, there are a lot of people who roll with the narrative that teachers have it disgustingly easy. People think of the vacations, the “summers off” and assume that we have the smoothest gig known to man. While I will admit that summers are nice (I refuse to work summer school, the rest and free time are more important than an extra check), a lot of people have no idea the amount of time that goes into ensuring a successful school year. A teacher who truly cares and takes their job seriously goes through so much stress. There is a reason why 50% of people who enter the teaching profession quit within five years.
Why am I discussing this? Well for starters, as I previously mentioned I am a teacher and it is a major part of my life. Perhaps most importantly, I want to discuss some amazing people I met my last day in Nairobi. The day before leaving for Tanzania, I visited the Cheery Children Education Centre in the Kibera section of Nairobi. Unfortunately, Kibera is the largest slum on the entire continent of Africa.
Getting to the school was a bit of a hassle, mostly due to traffic and location. It is difficult to find. Naviating through the dirt streets brought a sadness over me. Despite visiting my parent’s homeland of Sierra Leone (where poverty is rampant), I was ill prepared to see the sheer magnitude and size of the slum.
We finally arrive and I’m welcomed by one of the supervisors as I’m led through the alleyway. I meet some of the people I’ve been hanging out with for the past few days. I find myself in a very small room full of bright eyed children. The number could not have been less than thirty. Thirty students in a room that is not much larger than a walk-in closet. I’m told that this is “Class 5.” *Note* What we know as “grades” are usually referred to as “Classes” throughout Africa. This class housed students from ages 10-13.
I introduce myself, and the students marvel (and giggle a bit) at my name. I’m not offended by this as many children in Kenya have English names whereas I do not. As a formal hello, the students sang their National Anthem for myself and Brian, one of my new travel friends.
The Q&A part of the visit was interesting to say the least. We were asked the usual
“Who is your favorite singer?”
“What is your favorite sport?”
“Who is your hero?”
Not suprisingly, the children expressed their love for “futbol.”
There I was, thinking this was a cinch. Then I told them I was a teacher. From there the questions took a bit of a turn.
“What is a government?”
“How do you choose your President?”
Then we were asked some sort of math question.
These kids were trying to stump us and I found it absolutely adorable.
We then asked the students what they wanted to be as adults. What followed was a slew of “I want to be a doctor” “I want to be a teacher” and “I want to be an engineer” with a few “I want to be a pilot” and “journalist” sprinkled in. My heart melted at these dreams and aspirations. We asked them what they can do to make sure they become who they want to be.
“Study, work hard, and pray.”
Lawd. The tears were so ready.
The teachers called a few students to demonstrate some vocabulary games they usually play.
Then we had a series of races to see who could spell out a word the fastest. The best word I could think of was “America.”
I introduced the kids to the game of hangman and tic tac toe (they seemed to really enjoy the latter) and played quite a few rounds. Soon enough, it was time for the older kids to go outside and play. I spent some time in a classroom for younger children, who were in the middle of a reading session and happened to be some of the most adorable kids I have ever seen. This was a class that had at least 70 kids. After being asked to take pictures (actually, it was more like a sweet demand) it was unfortunately time to go. Mind you, the entire time I was struggling to hold back the tears. The kids sang a wonderful “goodbye song” and walked us to our car. My dude Brian took a wonderful picture of some of the girls helping me down the path.
It was difficult saying goodbye to those kids.
On the drive back into the main city, I felt a bit of anger. Anger at our system, and yes…even some anger at a number of my students through the years. I just spent time with children who literally have no one else but their teachers and each other, woefully in need of supplies, but still have a joy for learning and a desire to succeed. The enthusiasm towards learning new things is one that made me a bit jealous. Now don’t get me wrong, I do have some lovely students. However, I also have many students (too many) who have everything they need and want yet could not care any less about getting an education. Each day, I witness too many students demonstrate a sheer disrespect and in some cases utter contempt for their teachers. The respect the children at Cheery showed their teachers was something to behold. I have a great amount of respect for the teachers there. They accomplish so much with so little.
I am still struggling to understand. Why the contrast? Why are so many schools in America struggling with behavior, motivation, and achievement (from students and teachers alike)?
I suppose I’ll always struggle to understand the questions that run through my mind, but nonetheless I have to say that my experience at Cheery Children was wonderful, heartbreaking, and heartwarming all at the same time. Despite the poor conditions that surround Kibera and the children of Cheery, I saw a beauty that is rare. The type of beauty that you are grateful to have the opportunity to witness. The beauty of living…the beauty of hope and determination.
A beauty that is quite unconventional, but very real.
If you would like to donate to Cheery Children Education Centre, please visit http://cheerycentre.org/donations