This is the second part of a two-part article.  To read part one, click here

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For the second time, I found my way through Kibera slum at sunrise and into the classroom where I had sat, frustrated and disillusioned, only one week before.

I’m so glad I did.

Day two of school began just like day one, but this time I knew what to expect. Knowing helped me move past my preoccupation with the lack of resources, lack of structure and lack of comfort. For the first time, I stopped contemplating what we lacked and saw what was present: normal teenagers.

Amrine and Lydia on break from studying

As we sat through lessons in math and business, students scribbled furiously and asked clarification questions. Between lessons they braided each other’s hair and passed around notebooks to copy notes they’d missed. In Biology they asked questions with hidden innuendos and snickered at the teacher’s responses. In Swahili…well, I have no idea. It was all in Swahili.

I was sitting in the middle of a class of inquisitive, bright and somewhat “cheeky” adolescents who were learning.

Students create a notebook like this one for each subject

Little Things

However, little things still struck me along the way. For one thing, nobody knew which lessons were coming. Some days they may learn five, other days ten. Whenever a teacher entered, the students started digging for the corresponding notebook and a piece of chalk for the teacher. Also, a textbook or exercise book may be shared amongst the entire class, meaning that students must spend hours copying text by hand.

As on day one, Snyder graciously walked me through what was happening. I was getting the hang of things by about three, but that’s when my entire class was called—excuse me, chased out with a yard stick—to the courtyard to see the headmaster for a school fees check.

This school costs 5,800 Kenyan shillings per term—the equivalent of about $75 dollars. But even this amount proves difficult for many families that have inconsistent income averaging dollars per day that must serve the entire family.

I helplessly watched out the window as each student approached the school headmaster then either returned to the classroom or lowered her head and went home.

Only eight of thirty-two students returned to Form Two.

Joyce, one of my wise teachers

Frustration

There it was again—that creeping feeling of frustration and hopelessness and pity. Two different teachers came into our classroom, looked at the number of students and decided that they would wait until more students were present to teach. I couldn’t blame them, but how many days would that take?

I was grateful when Snyder and Joyce approached me saying, “Come—we walk!”

We headed out of the school and up the nearby hill, away from the slum. The girls set a sauntering pace along the hilltop as we talked and stretched and looked out at Kibera.

“Look! It’s a funny place, no?” said Joyce. “You know, when people hear you are from Kibera, aye! They just think many things. Some people pretend it is not their home.”

“Do you?”, I asked them.

The girls laughed and shrugged. Snyder waved her arm towards the tin rooftops and chaos saying, “Why? It is where we are. We live here. We are happy with our lives.”

Her words settled into me. We live here. I forgot that. I am so often focused on what needs help, what is broken. I think of everything as in transition towards something better, but as a very wise professor once told me, “Human beings are more than the sum of their needs.”

These girls are living now. They are growing up a little every day.

What is Important

School (especially this one) is rougher than I’d hoped, but it is still critical. When I ask these girls about what is important in life their resounding answer is education. They want to be in class, and they’re grateful for people like those working in ZanaA who keep them there by providing them with sanitary pads.

Even an imperfect school is critical to the lives of adolescents

I’m grateful that they can participate in ZanaA empowerment lessons that provide them with an alternate voice to consider. These lessons invite them to challenge and consider what they hear from friends and teachers in a way that is healthy and liberating.

As we headed down the hill and back into the classroom, the remaining girls lazily asked, “What time is it??” I checked my phone and reported, “5:00”.

“Ugh,” they exclaimed with attitude reminiscent of my teenage years. “Hey, did anyone watch ‘Teresa’ last night? Laura, this show is so great…”

I gladly listened to their telling of the latest soap update, relieved to be free at last from my own shallow perspective, relieved to live for a moment in the light of understanding that tragedy does not dominate Kibera.

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Next Steps
    • Interested in learning more about the girls of ZanaA? Read their group blogs! Some new content just recently went live: http://www.zanaa.org/empowernet-clubs/
    • Pray for educational institutions at home and abroad. Quality education should be available to every child. Pray for teachers, students, administrators and policy makers who are involved in this very important mission.
    • Don’t let a lack of school fees or sanitary pads stop children from going to school. Consider donating money for pads to ZanaA (zanaa.org) or sponsoring a child through an organization like World Vision (wvi.org).
    • Offer your knowledge to students in your area. Become a volunteer tutor!
    Next Steps

About the Author: Laura is a journalism fellow with World Next Door. She graduated from the University of Arizona, Tucson with a degree in Animal Sciences and a minor in Spanish. She is constantly learning, making friends, dancing, and trying to understand her role in alleviating the suffering of others. Laura also attracts a lot of awkward situations.

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Comments

  1. Catherine Bell said... 

    Reply

    July 26th, 2011 at 11:31 am  

    So thankful for the second article, Laura. Does not change the horror of your first visit, but – as you found – puts it in perspective. And encourages prayer, and trustfully provision for those who had to leave the classroom. Also demonstrates what a resilience the Lord has put into these young people. Wow! Much to ponder on and to hold before the Lord.

    Thank you for all your sharing this summer. I am excited to share more of your responses as you continue with WND, and am praying for your complete healing. Catherine Bell, prayer team. (Met you the evening at Roderiguez’ and have been privileged to pray for you daily since then.)

  2. Josie Tilyou said... 

    Reply

    July 26th, 2011 at 2:48 pm  

    So when we in America say “we had a hard day” it is really minimal in comparison; we can be grateful for the salvation we have through Christ for a better tomorrow. I pray that the same hope (in Christ) that we have is what they accept in their lives, so they too will have better days to come. This article touched my heart.
    Thank you for speaking & showing God’s Love to them.

    I’m praying for all of you daily.

  3. Phil Grizzard said... 

    Reply

    July 26th, 2011 at 9:46 pm  

    It’s great to know that there’s a little Beavis and Butthead in teens everywhere, even girls at school in Kenyan slums. Cracks me up! No translation needed.

    We’re not so different…

  4. Denise said... 

    Reply

    July 27th, 2011 at 11:06 am  

    Thank you for your articles and the perspective and insight you have communicated. It helps me to know how to pray more specifically, although the details are heartbreaking. God bless these kids and may God grant them a peace and joy that only He can give in the midst of such difficult and harsh circumstances.

  5. Danielito said... 

    Reply

    July 28th, 2011 at 5:58 am  

    Great article! I always enjoy Laura’s writing. It reminds me of small rocks bouncing off the beak of a south american pelican during a grade 5 sandstorm. Please keep us posted on your newest adventure in Kenya!

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