If you have been following my blog, you know that a few posts ago I wrote a blog titled “Heartache” about the pain caused by meeting a 10 year old boy that lives on the streets. I met that boy the same day I met another young man, and when beginning that blog, I could not decide who broke my heart more. The 10 year old boy ultimately won, but just by an inch.
About two weeks ago, the Undugu Society interviewed 49 members of USK Street Children and Youth Associations about why they came to the streets, their lives, what they need, how the post-election violence affected them and more. Many interesting themes emerged that could each warrant a blog by me, such as malnutrition, police harassment, teen pregnancy and safety. However, the one that hit me the hardest was the issue of education.
One of the five young men that I interviewed got accepted into university but was unable to go due to a lack of money. His nickname is Obama, which is entirely appropriate. He is eloquent, intelligent, kind, and funny. ‘Obama’ got a scholarship to go to university, but his sponsor never paid and he was unable to attend school, leaving him no choice but to turn to the streets. When asked what his immediate needs are, he responded by saying that he needs a scholarship because he wants to continue his schooling so that he can become a lawyer. Instead of studying law, he spends his days collecting scrap metal to sell for money and eating from a dumpsite. He has so much potential, the only thing holding him back is poverty.
What’s more is that ‘Obama’ is not the only one wanting to go back to school. Many children and youth said during their interview that they need money for school fees so that they can continue their education. While primary school is free in Kenya, in reality, there are many costs associated with it that are out of reach of 1.8 million Kenyan children. Such costs include uniforms, shoes, supplies and books. This may seem minor, but when you are living in poverty and are struggling to feed yourself, a school uniform and thus education is not a priority.
What jarred me most when reading through the surveys was that these kids actually want to go back to school to learn. In the US, school is free (not Kenyan free, but free free) but most children would rather stay home everyday playing than go learn multiplication tables and grammar. However, when school is out of your reach, you realize the importance of it. How would you ever get a decent job without an education? How would you ever be able to read a newspaper or book without an education? Even read a menu or write a note?
American children and I assume well-off children everywhere do not realize just how lucky they are. Gaining an education is like getting a handed a ladder to escape out of poverty and a cushion to fall on in case you are sliding down towards it. It’s like a game of shoots and ladders, but in this version, the fortunate children land on the ladders and are equipped with huge cushions when they come across a slide. The unfortunate children never seem to land on the ladders and just keep sliding down, lacking anything to break their fall.
Therefore, the Kenyan government has to even out this playing field. They must make the “free” primary education that they introduced in 2003 actually free and then work to make secondary and tertiary education accessible to all Kenyan youth as well. Until that day comes, I am grateful for the Non-Formal free schools that USK operates to help educate the poor and marginalized children of Nairobi who cannot afford the costs of a “free” Kenyan public school.
However, ‘Obama’ wants more than just a primary education. He may have landed on a few ladders in life and may have a small cushion, but they are not enough to keep him out of poverty. His lack of opportunity has caused him to live on the streets instead of in a dormitory where he belongs, waiting around to fulfill his potential that society has not yet let him realize. Until university is accessible to him, Kenya is missing out on the full benefits that an intelligent young man like him can bring to a nation – something that hurts everyone in society, not just this one unfortunate Kenyan youth.
Posted By Kristina Rosinsky
Posted Jun 30th, 2008