Last year, I had the experience of a lifetime, where I got the opportunity to work for an international development agency, Aga Khan Foundation. I was stationed in Nairobi Kenya, and helped to support the Foundation’s health, education and rural development programs. The first week I landed, I got to visit one of the primary schools that the Foundation’s programming supported, within one of the city’s poorest slum locales.
It was a very bumpy ride to the school, the agency car meandering through narrow, unpaved dirt streets, with small stores, makeshift hotels and shacks, which help to earn a living and provide homes to those residing in the slum area. Children were running alongside, waving, smiling, and trying to catch a glimpse of the foreign-looking passengers in the backseat. Some areas were so rough and hilly, I was not sure if the car was going to make it. I was anticipating the tires getting stuck. But we made it through.
Next we went into the teacher’s lounge, where the staff were finishing up their midday meal of ugali (cornmeal staple) and sukuma wiki (collard greens/kale). The teachers graciously let us interrupt the classrooms. The first room was the nursery class, where the little pupils were all on the floor, squirming, fidgeting, huddled close together, trying to get cozy for their naptime! We then moved onto higher level classrooms, each identical, with wooden benches seating navy-uniform clad pupils looking at us curiously, amusingly, and greeting us in unison with shy, yet cheerful greetings. Some never heard of Canada; most giggled trying to pronounce our names! The grade 3 class demonstrated their reading capabilities, from the teaching tools known as “talking walls.” Finally, we attended the teacher’s training session, where I got to sit in on one of the group exercises where teachers wrote down the successes of the training they received to improve their profession. Some of the successes they listed included: improvements in pupils who are slower learners, improvements in teachers’ creativity in making learning materials, increase in parental involvement, and increased confidence of students.
However, I still cannot shake off the look of sadness and hopelessness in Stella’s eyes when we were conversing with her. The program’s funding was ending, and despite the many successes the school had accomplished, it will be difficult to maintain the improvements with no further funding support. The Foundation strives to seek funding to continue supporting important educational programs and schools like these in the slums of Nairobi, in the hopes that marginalized students also have the chance for a decent education and a bright future.