It’s 9:30 am and I am squished between my mom and the window, seated in seats designed for skinny eighth graders. We just left Kenya Connect’s Learning Resource Center and are headed to the primary school we are working at today. The trip takes us out 45 min. from the small village of Wamunyu into increasingly remote areas. With the bumpy rhythm of the drive, my mind starts to mull over the question that had plagued me ever since I had committed to this trip four months earlier: is my traveling to Kenya to teach primary school classes each day (me, an engineering student who has zero experience with teaching) the most impactful way to use the money I’m spending or should I have instead donated it directly to the cause – to help pay for secondary school for several students, for example?
As we journey down the rutted road, with dust spraying up from the tires, we see two older men who are straining to pull some rocks out of a hole. When we pass by, their faces light up and they wave enthusiastically. Ten minutes later, we pull into the school, and a crowd of 150 singing and dancing kids forms behind the bus to welcome us. As we get out of the bus to join them, they inevitably draw my attention to the slogan painted in white on the back of the bus: Wonderful things happen when kids connect.
Each day at a primary school had a different moment of connection for me. There was the hospitality I felt to be welcomed as one of the Kamba tribe at a ceremony at the first school where they named us in Kikamba. Mine is Mutiso, meaning, “Boy born under the moon.” The joy of silliness we all experienced when the school children released delighted giggles as we taught them the “Go Bananas” song. Watch the inquisitive faces of the older girls as they watched the demonstration of the reusable sanitary pads. And it was fun to watch the struggles of each student team as they tried to navigate the river of lava their floor had suddenly turned into without leaving any teammate behind in our team building exercise.
On our last Saturday, the Kenya Connect Learning Resource Center was bustling with activity from a group of teachers and two groups of secondary school students, one from The School Fund (TSF) and the second from the US Embassy Access Grant program. I worked specifically with the Access students where we hosted a series of presidential debates with the goal of improving public speaking skills. It was clear that the extra LRC classes, the exposure to computer resources (the LRC is the only facility with accessible computers in a 100 mile radius), and the field trips to Nairobi, Kenyan universities, and the US Embassy had connected these two student groups to a world of possibilities. Their hope and potential was infectious. Each had their own dream; a profession they wanted to pursue with their education, whether that was politics or architecture, and they would fit right into any high achieving group of students in a US school.
Over the duration of the trip, as I kept pondering my impact question, I came to a couple of conclusions. First, I realized I had experienced firsthand the role of education in providing ambition and optimism within a community. Second, I realized how much I, and my view of the world, had changed because of my connection with these people in Kenya. Between my personal growth – my expanded horizons, and my increased ability to place poverty and NGO work in context – and the work I did through and with Kenya connect in the community of Wamunyu, I came away secure in the knowledge that the trip was well worth the investment. Wonderful things happen when kids connect.
Evan Schlick recently graduated from Dartmouth College. He traveled with Kenya Connect in June 2017