On September 1, 2009, I embarked on a humbling journey of self-exploration to the heart of Africa. For a month, I immersed myself in the culture of the Maasai tribe while adopting and learning from their customs and culture in the rural village of Kajiado, Kenya. This 6-part series chronicles the experiences and observations while travelling.
Settling into Maasailand and absorbing the diverse culture was my first feat. Overcoming the social barriers and gaining the trust and respect of two classrooms filled with inquisitive students aged 10 through 14, was an entirely dissimilar challenge to accept.
Upon meeting with officials at Esokota Primary School, I learned that I would be teaching Standard 5 English and Standard 6 Science. Armed with torn teachers manuals and coverless textbooks, I was given little direction on how to proceed. With an aptitude for writing and a flair for creativity, I relied heavily on those skills to put together a strategy that would be both engaging and educational for the students.
On my first day in class, I made my introductions to the students and was pleasantly surprised to be welcomed by warm, friendly faces and a formal greeting. We spent the first part of our day learning about one another and I allowed them to ask me questions about Canada, where I hail from. With my blow up beach ball globe, I played geography teacher by asking them to find Canada and Kenya. The blow up beach ball was most likely the bigger hit and they rejoiced when I let them know it was theirs to play with.
With spare time on my hands, I helped out with other classes when needed. During recess, I was perched on a flat rock in the distance writing poetry when all the students from the school rushed over to receive me. The smaller children who had never seen a white complexion gently touched my skin, looked up with eager smiles and repeated, “smooth, smooth.”
The lunchtime meals consisted of maize and beans, but at times they ran low on supplies and the students had to do without. I made a point of trekking to Kajiado shortly into my teaching stint to pick up whatever extra I could to help during the slow periods.
At first, the children in both classes were timid and took a while to respond to my inquiries and oral dictations. But children of Kenya love to study and crave an education. With guidance, reassurance, and the funky stickers I brought with me to reward good work, they learned to open up gradually and ask more questions. I paid additional attention to the younger children who required development in English skills to ensure they did not pass through the system without advancement.
Science proved to be more difficult. I had prepared myself for Unit 10 on the composition of air and created an entire lesson plan. It turned out that the students had already finished Unit 10, so I blindly had to adapt to teach movement and force. In the end, I was able to get the comprehensive across accurately with the help of my trusty beach ball to demonstrate gravity, and friction.
A week into my English classes, another volunteer in the same school was nearing a birthday. I proposed to the students as an assignment that we create a play in his honour. Thrilled to be able to contribute, I had the commitment of all the children and overwhelming support by the staff. We rehearsed it during the first break and they all thanked me for writing it. Along with the play, the students performed a unique version of Happy Birthday which the volunteer was delighted to receive.
In Science, the students had completed the entire textbook prior to my arrival and I was left with the task of figuring out how to continue to teach without revisiting what was taught. I thought of a way to incorporate the information they had studied and allow them to share with the other students through an oral presentation and test. Each student was given a unit to cover and had to incorporate oral, written and tactile examples. The top female and top male presenter would be awarded prizes that I brought from Canada.
The presentations were very comprehensive and allowed them to work individually from the knowledge they had acquired. I learned their styles and could help them develop their weaknesses. It was a great experience and they thrived with the curriculum.
On my final day at Esokota, the entire school gathered to bid me farewell. I dished out lollipops, bubbles, glow in the dark stars and other tokens to each student to keep a memory of me after my departure. I asked the students to also write in a journal anything that they wanted about their experiences shared with me and I vowed to send them pictures of our time together.
The students in my Standard 5 English class said goodbye through a song they prepared for me. As their sweet songs bellowed in perfect unison, my eyes welled with tears knowing that I would miss each one of them tremendously.
I live my life with the aspiration of “waking up” to the realms of limitless possibilities that are at our fingertips if we allow ourselves to experience them. I can now say that “I am awake” and want to continue to weaken the negative disparity that separates knowledge from perception by promoting positive initiatives within the African continent. Through volunteering, I have discovered a part of myself that was lying dormant. I still remember how my students sang to me on my last day of class, “For our friends, who are going, we wish you a happy stay. We wish you a merry life, in your future.”