Today was a giant lesson in humility and compassion. Amazing what is communicated through simple gestures:eye contact, a smile, a wave, a handshake, a hug, a nod, thumbs up, prayer hands. A lot of information, encouragement and emotion was transferred between people by words and by non-verbal motions.
Kambaru Primary School is hidden down a very dusty side road surrounded by fields of dried up corn plants, dense trees and underbrush. A bridge crosses a clean green river tumbling over rocks sided by lush natural landscape. The river scene reminded me of the river boat ride at Six Flags. The gates opened to a fenced compound where children were beginning to cross from their dormitories to the classrooms and others were entering from their own homes by walking some from distances that would be unreasonable to us- the start of their school day. The director of the school was absent due to taking a family member to the hospital so one of the lead teachers handled introductions, opening assembly and tour guide responsibilities. The pastor of the church which is also within the compound, Sister Mary, joined the group and helped with our questions. Entertainment was provided by the whole student body ages 3-16 who sang a song with motions. I could repeat this part for you: thumbs up, knees bent, turn around...this was a children's praise song where Cathy ( a lady from my church) and I kept hearing the words, Mickey Mantle. African accented English is often hard to understand ( probably especially to Texans) so I'm sure we heard wrong. Those of you who were church goers as children know about mixing up words to hymns. Did you ever sing Bringing in the Sheets? That would not make sense at all for an American child of today.
Envision your stereotyped mental picture of an African school and now confirm to yourself that it is real. Children do sit together 3-4 on a wooden bench and share books and writing materials. Small wooden shanty type buildings house their small classrooms which contain 1 black chalkboard and teacher made posters of geometric shapes and other educational topics, low lighting, some dirt floors - no color, no educational toys or models, no electronics/computers (are you kidding?), no library books, no globes or maps. Learning takes place through oral repetition & recitation, copying from the blackboard into paper notebooks and with use of workbooks ( but every child does not have a workbook remember?). This school had small classes for the youngest children in nursery school (about 10 students) to a class of 25 in 8th grade. In spite of their desolate surroundings, they were cheerful, respectful, helpful, inquisitive and polite!
Nadia, the mathematics teacher for grades 7/8 bonded with me and became my personal guide through the campus classrooms, dormitories, kitchen, chicken coops and playground. She asked me to speak to her 8th grade math class so I asked them how they used math in their life - stares but no verbal responses. so I asked them if they only used math when their teacher told them to do it. Some said yes & others laughed. I saw examples of proportions on the board so I told them how people in our group had used proportions to do our currency exchange from American dollars to Kenya shillings. They were preparing for required national exams of all 8th graders to determine where and if they would be accepted for continuing education in secondary school. During our visit, the younger children were summoned out of their classrooms to sit on the ground and eat their breakfast porridge which reminded me of "gruel" from productions of Oliver. They were chowing down & not wasting a bite! The cooks were also preparing the lunch meal cooking a stew in a huge pot over an open air fire in the school yard.
Nearing time to leave for the next scheduled school visit, I asked Nadia what would help her most in trying to educate her students, did she need any special books or supplies? What she wanted most was to take them on a field trip to Mombasa where they could visit museums and see the ocean. None of her students had ever been out in the bigger world away from their village or homes in the countryside. She wanted them to see and experience what they had only read about or been told of at school. Ok, God, please make this happen! Tell me how?
This morning visit was followed by tours of three more schools. I thought I had seen all the possible sad conditions at Kambaru, but no! Individuals, sites and events continued to add more to my heavy heart at Thura, Kithare and Ncunguru. I can't pour out all the stories here just now- save those for later. Ending our day of touring, Bishop William took us to one of the churches in his synod to meet adults from all over the area who were serving as caregivers to orphans, bringing them to live in there own homes. Many of them took turns speaking about their hopes and dreams for the future, thanking us & thanking God! We brought gifts for them to share with the children that they keep - knitted hats, pencils, rubber bracelets, toothbrushes, balls, toy cars and yarn dolls. Before leaving for home (our temporary home is the Westwind Hotel in Meru) some of the ladies served us British/Kenya style late afternoon tea - breads similar to sopapillas and naan with fruit, watermelon & bananas. That revived us for the drive back. Passing through the rutted roads in dimming twilight, I could not stop the tears from flowing again. Looking out the window, I saw misty mountains in the distance with lush foliage in the foreground and felt like I was in a scene from Lion King. Peace surrounded me, God's peace.
These are street scenes looking out from the hotel parking lot in Meru:
And this was my room:
Galatians 5:22-23 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance: against such there is no law.