We arrived at the school for Parents Day, and found the girls in their temporary schoolhouse, singing. Through the shuttered windows, I could see them practicing their performances – call and response songs in Maasai, some memorized poems. Outside, the teachers sat by the temporary office, preparing final exam grades so they could discuss each child’s progress with her parents. This parents day is being held on the last day of the school term, before what would normally be a two-week break for the girls. Because the school jut started in May, and the teachers are detecting some weakness in their math and English skills, they have decided to give the girls a three-day weekend and start again on Monday in an effort to catch up with their peers in other schools.
Over the next several hours, parents arrived at the casual pace that Kenyans attend scheduled events. In the meantime, Luna and I played with the girls; we taught them one song after another and after they aptly learned the words they would scream, “another!” and so we rummaged with haste through our forgotten days of summer camp assemblies and campfire games. I taught an unusually vocal session of yoga, giving each of the movements an animal sound to help the girls understand the positions (“downward dog – bark like a puppy!” “Woof woof woof” went the chorus; “now cat tuck pose, roar like a lion” – “ROAR!” went the fierce pride). Luna has been teaching the girls Taekwondo whenever we have free time with them; by now, the girls have shirked their timid gestures and meek yells for the sharp “yah!” they throw with their nimble kicks. There’s also the favorite pastime of touching my hair and face; there seems to be no end to the surprise of my uncurled hair and light skin – the girls have to touch my head and arms to believe it. “Our Mom is so preeeetty!” They yelp with excitement, small fingers tracing my neck and eyelids. And as sweet and touching as the love-session is, it can be overwhelming (see the picture below):
When more than half of the parents had arrived, we all migrated to the unfinished classroom in the official Center for Excellence. The school building is more than halfway finished, and will be the first two-story building in town when it is completed. This is, already, a source of pride for everyone involved in the school. The parents squeezed their knees under the small desks, sitting with bodies craned forward in anticipation – women in the center rows, men entirely separate in the row by the windows. The girls came in and, with the signal from their teachers, formed lines in front of us. Kakenya’s youngest sister, Nashipay, led the girls in a traditional Maasai song – all of them jumping down to the floor and springing up to the rhythm of the song. After their performance, the girls listened along with their parents as the teachers talk of overall performance in the three months since school opened. “Overall,” Madam Lydia said, “the girls are getting higher marks than they were in their initial exams. They are also speaking only English in the classroom – if any student is overheard talking in her mother-tongue, she has to wear a necklace made of cow bones!” The girls laughed from their seats, hiding their heads in each others’ sweaters. When they first started at this school, almost all of the students spoke no English; only a few months in, they understand all that Luna and I say to them, and can reply quickly with annunciation better than most Americans.
Some parents stood up and spoke passionately about the importance of their daughters’ education – the fathers taking the lead. They emphasized cleanliness and the need for new uniforms so the girls could have more confidence in themselves. Good grades were acknowledged and higher marks were expected – said fathers and mothers, directing their eyes at the girls. In my nearly ten weeks in Kenya, I’ve noticed that Kenyans are talented orators and talented promisers: they vow to make certain changes, and the passion of their promise sometimes outweighs the action taken. At the end of this meeting, what I’d come to expect was not what in fact happened.
Kakenya stood in front of the parents, expressing her gratitude for everyone’s support and for the girls’ hard work. At the end of her talk, she mentioned that the school would be open for the holiday, unlike neighboring primary schools, and they would need donations for food during these two weeks. And within ten minutes (okay, maybe 20), the parents had completely taken care of it. “I can bring 5 kilos of sugar!” shouts the mother with the polka-dot cape; “I have 10 kilos of maize”, yells the father in the tan suit. And like this, every child’s snack and lunch were accounted for. Kakenya was impressed, and so was I. “Wow, these parents!” She said afterwards, as we all sat on the lawn with our lunch of beans and rice. “They are really committed. I guess I can call on them more often.” And in just one day, she did – one of the fathers (one that I interview in the next blog, Paul Murunka) offered to travel to Kisii with us the next day (a town about 2 hours away) to handle the negotiations of ordering construction materials. And only a few days later, one of the mothers – who has traveled very little outside of Enoosaen – volunteered to join us on the long seven-hour journey to Eldoret to collect the girls’ new uniforms. Where there is support from parents – we all know because of lack or abundance in our own lives – a child’s chances for happiness and success increase exponentially. It seems that Kakenya has, in her unfinished classroom of parents and children, what it takes to have a true Center for Excellence.
Posted By Kate Cummings
Posted Aug 12th, 2009