In my blogs, I have been referring to my students as “poor and marginalized children and youth” but after spending the majority of my days with them, their lack of wealth is not what defines them to me anymore. I have even found myself forgetting that they are poor several times.
But it is true, my students are poor. They live on the streets or in very impoverished areas like Kibera or Mathare. They are the ones collecting recyclables on the sides of the streets, selling sweets, eggs and other small goods and the ones who are too poor to afford the costs associated with “free” primary education, bus fare or even lunch.
However, they are also the people who hold my hand when crossing the street, share their snacks and candy with me, play with my hair, joke around with me and make sure that my bag is zipped all the way when we are out in the field.
They’ve shown me that their defining characteristics are not that they are “poor and marginalized” but rather generous, fun and caring. They are just people that don’t happen to have much money. Why should that define them?
Peter, Raphael, Joseph and Robinson having a good time.
My other experiences in Kenya would have me think the opposite – that wealth defines everything, including how we interact with each other. People see me, a white face, and assume I am rich and subsequently ask me for money, a way to get to the US, etc. Alternatively, I see poverty in the streets and feel depressed. We can continue viewing each other as richer or poorer than each other and act as if that creates a wall between us, but we don’t have to. It is possible to look past and forget wealth, or lack of wealth, and appreciate the person underneath.
I want to thank my students for not only showing me this but also giving me the chance to experience it. It is not just about helping poor kids anymore, but helping smart, funny, enthusiastic, ambitious, generous and caring people, too. Thanks to them, I am looking at my work in this new, and even more fulfilling, light and looking at the world with this sense of unity that I have never before felt.
Posted By Kristina Rosinsky
Posted Aug 5th, 2008