Why are kids so awesome? I mean, they’re funny, they’re clever and their view of the world is stunning in its beautiful simplicity. I have learned so much from the kids in my life.

That has never been more true than here in Kibera. Hanging out with some of the kids in this slum has been amazingly eye-opening. In just the few weeks that I’ve been here, they’ve taught me a lot about the world.

Hopefully you’ll enjoy these lessons I’ve learned from the kids in Kibera…

Lesson 1: All boys do dumb things…

Boys are foolish. That’s pretty much a rule of nature. To a boy, a stick is not just a stick. It’s a sword. Furniture is not just furniture. It’s something to jump off of. To a boy, even seemingly harmless things like pillows can be turned into objects of destruction.

Clearly up to no good... And just WHAT is that in your mouth, young man?

Clearly up to no good... And just WHAT is that in your mouth, young man?

In fact, I’ve discovered that this “rule” seems to transcend cultures. Boys here in Kibera tend to be just as foolish as boys in suburban America. Somehow, they hit each other a lot, fall down a lot, bleed a lot, and still manage to make it through boy-hood relatively unscathed.

They put gross things in their mouths, they yell a lot and seem to be completely unaware of just how filthy their clothes are. Does that sound familiar?

Boys. Doesn’t matter where they are, they are all essentially the same…

Lesson 2: Fun doesn’t cost a thing…

As I’ve watched kids playing in Kibera, I have been struck with an interesting fact. They don’t have Playstations, trampolines, or Super Soakers, but these kids still know how to have fun.

Kids in Kibera always seem to be content playing with what they have.

Kids in Kibera always seem to be content playing with what they have.

Without the money to buy a real soccer ball, boys kick around rolled up balls of plastic bags. Toddlers pull around toy cars made out of old cereal boxes and wire. Girls play with dolls made out of old rags.

But they don’t sit crying in the dust wishing for newer or better toys. They laugh and sing and play, without (it seems) a care in the world. In fact, it’s hard to find a place on the planet where there are more smiles per capita than in the middle of a group of slum children.

For someone like me, it’s hard to believe that this is even possible. It’s a breeze for me to drop $60 on a new video game or $100 on a few rounds of paintball. When I played outside with my friends growing up, we used plastic light sabers, remote control cars and Nerf guns. When something broke (or ran out of batteries!), we’d just buy a new one.

I know we’ve all heard the phrase, “money can’t buy happiness,” but I know that I tend to live like it can.

Maybe these Kibera kids know something that we don’t.

Maybe fun really doesn’t cost a thing!

Lesson 3: Mzungus are strange, strange people…

As we’ve mentioned before, being white in Kibera definitely makes you stand out. Kids see you and start yelling “How are you?” from a mile away. But the more time I’ve spent with kids here, the more I’ve been able to see myself from their perspective. And let’s face it. I am weird.

When an mzungu is in the neighborhood, ALL the kids want to say hello!

When an mzungu is in the neighborhood, ALL the kids want to say hello!

First of all, my arms are covered in some strange hair. It takes just about all the willpower they can muster for kids not to simply rub my forearms for hours. Most don’t have the emotional fortitude to stop themselves (Of course, only a few have been brave enough to touch my mystical locks of curly hair…).

Second, I am always carrying around a backpack. Why do I always have it with me? What is in it? What exotic mysteries does that magical bag hold?

Third, I have some strange grooming habits. In the morning, I douse my face and head with cold water and put some odd cream in my hair. Am I trying to catch a cold? At night, I go to bathe with a big bag of toiletries under my arm. What’s wrong with a simple bar of soap? And why, when I brush my teeth, do I carry around a bottle of water? What’s wrong with the normal water?

Finally, I wear slippers (flip-flops) everywhere. That is strange. Why would someone who can pay to fly half-way around the world walk around in footwear reserved for those who can’t afford shoes?

When you look at it from their perspective, we mzungus really are weird!

Lesson 4: School isn’t a burden, it’s an privilege…

A group of children head off to school in the morning...

A group of children head off to school in the morning...

I have been consistently blown away by the attitudes of school children in Kibera. They are dedicated and studious like nothing I’ve ever seen. They dive into homework, study for tests and lug their books to school and back every day without ever complaining!

I remember how I was back in school and it was a burden. I mean, dragging myself out of bed every morning, agonizing over homework and sitting in boring classes for hours, daydreaming about what I’d do when the final bell rang…

If I had had a choice, I would have gladly sat at home all day playing video games (good thing I didn’t!). Not going to lie, sometimes I even looked forward to getting sick because it meant I could stay home! But these kids in the slums wouldn’t dream of missing school.

It’s not hard to understand why.

First of all, their parents (many of whom never had a formal education) spend a significant portion of their income on school fees and uniforms. Many of these dedicated fathers and mothers work 12 hour days 7 days a week to send their kids to school. “Maybe, just maybe,” they think, “my son or daughter will be able to go to university and get out of the slum for good!”

A good education is the only way to break the cycle of poverty.

A good education is the only way to break the cycle of poverty.

What kid would want to squander their parent’s sacrifice?

Second, in a shame-based culture like this one, skipping school would dishonor not only the child, but the child’s family, the child’s clan and even the child’s neighborhood community! They don’t make the decision to study simply because they feel guilty about it. They do it because they must.

Finally, I think the kids here understand (even at a subconscious level) that what they are studying is important. When they see me walking down the street, they come running to practice all the English they know. When you ask them what they want to be when they grow up, they don’t hold back.

“I am going to be a doctor!”

“I am going to be a pilot!”

“I am going to be a teacher!”

They know why they are going to school, and it is a privilege.

Lesson 5: A smile goes a long way…

I have to say. Of all the lessons I’ve learned from the kids here in Kibera, the most important one is this. Smiles break down all sorts of walls!

When kids come running to stare at me, a big smile is all it takes to get them giggling. When a very small child is staring at me with horrified disbelief (not an uncommon occurrence here), my smile usually soothes their fears.

And when I’m the one having a bad day, the simple, beautiful smile of a child is just what I need to make things right again…

————-

Thanks, kids. You’ve taught me a lot!

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Next Steps
    • Read the book Brave New World by Aldous Huxley to imagine a world where children are taught that fun and entertainment always cost money...
    • Leave a comment about your perspective on school growing up. Did you love it? Hate it? How was it different than these kids from Kibera?
    • Spend some time looking at the world through a child's eyes. Tell us what you see...
    • Pray for the children in Kibera. Pray that they would remain healthy, happy and full of energy. Pray that their families would be able to provide for them. And pray that they would be able to break the cycle of poverty in this generation!
    Next Steps

About the Author: Barry is the founder and Executive Director of World Next Door. A storyteller, traveller and giant nerd, he lives to compel suburban Americans to get engaged with social justice and find their place in God's kingdom revolution. His ultimate dream is to adopt a pet monkey named Kevin.

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Comments

  1. Amy Sorrells said... 

    Reply

    July 21st, 2009 at 10:09 am  

    Ahhh, for the love of boys. Did you hear my resounding “amen” across the oceans and continents? Just this morning, two of my three sons awoke and started a lightsaber battle before they even went to the bathroom. And I wonder why chunks of drywall are missing from the strangest places in our house?!? Taking your suggested next step of praying cycles of poverty and brokenness be broken with the passion and energy of these kids and your team’s smiles. (Great idea, by the way, the “Next Steps” section of your posts!)

  2. sara said... 

    Reply

    July 21st, 2009 at 12:45 pm  

    Great post and reminders, Barry! Thanks for sharing!

  3. shelli said... 

    Reply

    July 21st, 2009 at 1:19 pm  

    Oh Barry, your observations of boys is so dead on! Aaron and I have been learning this ever since Sitota came home. The girls sit and play dolls for hours (often while whining at each other and crying about who stole what doll, but they actually sit still…. for a long time). On the other hand, we are pretty sure Sitota is incapable of remaining still for longer than 2 minutes while awake. He loves to eat the dog’s food, play in the toilet water, unroll the entire roll of toilet paper…. the list goes on. Boys are so much more physical too! The girls hug, Sitota slaps and pokes (especially your eyes).

  4. Leah Golland said... 

    Reply

    July 21st, 2009 at 2:04 pm  

    after spending much of my waking hours teaching and trying to corral children (it’s like herding cats, i swear), i can get very frustrated and start to wish i was doing ANYTHING else (almost). it’s nice to have a reminder about why i do what i do. education is important… and kids are FUN! :) thank Barry!

  5. Aaron Elliott said... 

    Reply

    July 21st, 2009 at 2:29 pm  

    I think I am going to read this post to my daughter who is starting first grade this year. What a beautiful picture of kids!
    I also remember walking korogocho slum the first time and finding myself looking for the kids. They had a way of making me feel safe in a very “unsafe” place as they surrounded me, yelling “how are you” and wanting to hold my hands. I think Jesus said “the kindgom belongs to such as these.”

  6. Rob Yonan said... 

    Reply

    July 21st, 2009 at 8:25 pm  

    you pegged it, from half way around the world. brilliant! I have so much more to say but my son is jumping off the couch with a stick in his mouth (and he’s 25 years old!).

  7. Alicia Layton said... 

    Reply

    July 22nd, 2009 at 8:07 am  

    Hey Barry! What a light-hearted, humorous way to glimpse into some powerful reminders. It made me recall numerous stories from working with a children’s home in India. I’d like to share one with you from my journal!

    JANUARY 2006
    I’ve been trying to keep up with running here in India. At the Beulah Home, I usually run in the front yard after all the kids go to bed
    because I don’t want to make a scene. On this particular day, I went to go run right before sundown while the kids were busy inside. I thought I could sneak outside unnoticed because they seemed so preoccupied with arts and crafts. But of course, they caught me and all wanted to know what “Auntie” is doing, dressed in strange shoes and clothes with a thing on her head (headphones). It started with Tolemsangba and Alibah who followed me outside. I told them to go inside because watching me run would be boring for
    them. But, they ignored me and decided they wanted to run alongside me. So, I let them. I thought, “These kids won’t make it the whole
    time, anyway. I’ll loose them soon.” But not only did they persist in running with me (although taking shortcuts sometimes), but more and more children joined in. So, somehow I wound up running with about 20 Indian
    children running in a mob before, beside and behind me! They would look up at me and smile, struggling to run right beside me. I kept thinking, “This is so bizarre…unlike any other run I’ve ever had!” And what’s more, they
    endured with me the whole way. I ran about 2 miles. That’s not an easy jog!! I was impressed and humbled by the powerful demonstration of their loyalty to be with me wherever I was.

  8. Marcia Zgirta said... 

    Reply

    July 23rd, 2009 at 1:20 pm  

    Wow Barry. Thanks for the reminders. My kids’ favorite thing to play with in Romania was the stack of empty milk boxes. We eventually had enough to make forts. I look at them and what they want now…and long for the days in Ro.
    There are powerful lessons to be learned from children who seemingly have nothing. They give us so much.

  9. Penny said... 

    Reply

    July 24th, 2009 at 8:44 am  

    Barry, this article made me think of the time when you and Marshall army crawled through the dense woods playing some war game and ended up covered head to toe with poison ivy!! Boys!!!

  10. Dave Rod said... 

    Reply

    July 24th, 2009 at 10:04 pm  

    What was God thinking when he made boys?

    May God grant those kids education. Now there’s a prayer I haven’t prayed much before.

    You are on it Bar’ – thanks!

  11. Dave Quigley said... 

    Reply

    July 31st, 2009 at 8:42 am  

    Hey Barry
    I remember all the crazy games and scenes we acted out with string, milk cartons, big cardboard box (awesome if you could find a dryer or washer box!), etc. We thought we were soldiers, gladiators, fighter pilots, football stars. Those were the days. I love the insights into the boys there and the video of the demolition derby stroller!
    Dave

  12. Breanna Sipple said... 

    Reply

    February 16th, 2011 at 4:37 pm  

    Aw, kids are great! Lesson 1 reminded me of my three brothers; when I read it, I just said to myself, “Yep….” Also, we played with those plastic light sabers, too. They are pretty fun.

    I loved school growing up, my mom homeschooled us and made learning SUPER fun! I always looked forward to it. I am glad the kids all had great answers for what they wanted to be when they grew up when you asked.

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