Kenya Pt. 2
My first day of work at New Beginnings! The day started with a typical Kenyan breakfast of toast and tea (barely counts as enough for me) before waiting for the guy assigned to take me to the school. He was running a little late, but the weather had turned into a downpour overnight, so walking around was a challenge. The house mom was really helpful calling him and making sure he was really on his way and not just buying time. Walking through the slum for the first time though was pretty intense. The streets were mud and puddles to the point of forcing me to focus on every step so I did not get sucked in. Then there was the school. Down a little alley off of another alley was a little building partly sunk underground called New Beginnings. I know that at least one of my apartments in Korea was bigger than the whole school. From the windows in the school we could not even see the torsos of people walking past. The light sockets were missing bulbs and desks far too big for the space in the school filled the study area, while up a couple of steps was a play area with a bed where the owner of the building’s son slept at night. Around the corner was a kitchen/storage area where the portable toilet for small children was or through which you have to pass to get to another small alley which was the toilet for older students, right next to the chicken coop. Smack in the face, kick in the nuts, call it what you want, but coming from a private elementary school in the third-largest city in the world to a special needs school in the center of the second biggest slum in Africa definitely makes an impression. That was before I even met any students. School was supposed to start at 8 a.m., but the teacher warned me that the weather would make it difficult for many of the students to come to school at all. Out of seven students at the school, only two students came at all during my first week.
The younger of the two is a double amputee, both legs, who is still kindergarten age. She is so bright and intelligent that the teacher has to have lots for her to do all day. She was able to come to school because her mother or father carried her. At the school she had a pair of prosthetics she was learning to walk with. She also loves music, so a previous volunteer had purchased a small keyboard with a microphone which she plays with once she has finished her work.
The other student was a little older and had contracted malaria at a young age, which wreaked havoc on his nervous system when it went untreated for too long. He has little motor-control or apparent cognitive ability. He does show signs of awareness at times but cannot communicate at all. He is also prone to seizures and spends a lot of the day laying down. When he is not resting or sleeping, he is trying to walk around or picking up objects to throw. The teacher has to feed him and change his diapers but can leave him on his own for the most part as long as he is not walking around.
I heard about the other students and what they excel at, what they enjoy, their needs, and their disabilities. The whole time I was just looking around at the school with holes in the ceiling and tree branches instead of bars across the windows and the sound of chickens from out back. The situation was rough to say the least. The timing of the rain and the end of the term also left me feeling that what I could do would be limited. Some simple physical therapy with both students, building on previous lessons with the girl, and generally giving the teacher a chance to mentally catch his breath seemed to be the most I could offer in such a short time and with the resources I had. The first couple of days the teacher and I talked about the possibility of me buying some supplies that could be used long after the current crop of students were gone and I went to buying as many as were available, along with pencils, notebooks, etc. for the next term. Obviously, I felt a little under-utilized and disappointed. I am far from an expert in special needs education, but I am more qualified than just being a checkbook or running errands. But I wanted to give them what they needed and not force my ideas or some personal agenda for glory on them.
The week went on like that until Thursday when a group of us volunteers went away for the Outreach program. The trip was going to take us to Naivasha west of Nairobi and show us another slum area school, an Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camp, and a tour of Hell’s Gate park. The school and slum outside of Naivasha was not too disimilar from the one in Kibera the other guy volunteer was working in. The teachers and students seemed to be doing their best with what they had, but struggling for what they need. The school was only for younger students getting ready for primary school, so basically a daycare and kindergarten. I bought a shirt to help out and we played with the kids for a while. After we served them lunch, though, it was time to go back to town to eat our lunch and buy supplies for the IDP camp. The story of the IDP’s was hard to listen to as the reality of how politics really affects people was apparent. The violence following the 2007 presidential elections in Kenya forced the people to abandon their homes. Which is not so surprising. But after nearly nine years, they have not been allowed to return to their homeland and have only recently gotten enough funds to replace their tents with shanties. The school they run is not even on land of theirs. The injustice is enough to get my blood boiling. The students, however, were super sweet as we gave them bread and juice for a snack, and the large sacks of flour purchased with the money we paid for the trip. Then they sang a song with us in which people were called out to dance alone in the center of the circle. A game of “Where’s my handkerchief?” (almost duck, duck, goose) was after that. The guides for Outreach got some good pics and videos of us playing. Sorry I cannot share those here. The highlight had to be when one volunteer chose the smallest child in the group in the handkerchief game and another volunteer scooped up the child and ran! He managed to beat the other volunteer back to the spot too! The child had no idea what just happened.
After saying goodbye and heading back into town, we ate dinner and called it a night. But not before everyone took hot-water showers in our individual hotel rooms for the first time in a while. I think that was the highlight for a lot of the group.
The second day of Outreach was a tour of Hell’s Gate park in western Kenya. The park is relatively small but offers a good chance for a one day safari. Lots of zebras, warthogs, impalas, and other none Big 5 beasts to see. Most of us went with the bicycle option and had a nice hour long ride down to the picnic/hiking area. For a few people it had been a while since they rode a bicycle, so that led to some interesting and epic falls. The weather turned out to be great for a morning bike ride though and I think all of us enjoyed the ride. The hike was kinda cool too. We went through some spots that were supposedly from famous movie scenes, like Mufasa’s death in Lion King and the rolling boulder from Indiana Jones. A lot of the park sits on top of hot springs which spill out and trickle down the cliffs steaming hot. We hiked around all of this for about an hour before stopping to eat the sandwiches and other food we had bought on the way, before heading back to Nairobi. A pretty good trip overall, even though I cannot recommend taking long trips by car through Kenya. The drivers push the limits of what seems possible a few too many times for my comfort. The number of times we were jolted awake by the sound of horns and a quick shift in weight as the car dove from incoming traffic back into the correct lane was enough to make you need a change of underwear. We all got back to the volunteer house safely, nonetheless, and relaxed with some Deadpool.
Kenya Pt. 2