Patti McGill Peterson Center for International and Intercultural Studies
Through my travel enrichment grant, I was able to immerse myself even more into Kenyan life as I extended my stay in the country for an additional 10 days. I began my post-semester travels in a crammed matatu that traveled from the streets of Nairobi, through the Rift Valley, and onto Narok. I met my guide, Hellen Nkuraiya, who is the director of the first school I visited. Hellen is a Maasai woman who works on behalf of Maasai children, specifically young girls who are subject to marriage and circumcision. She started a school called Enkiteng Lepa, which in Ki-Maasai means, "school for cows." In Maasai culture, girls are exchanged for cows at young ages (as young as 10 or 11) and married off to older men. Hellen's school is a massive compound with impressive facilities. There is a building consisting of five or six spacious classrooms and offices for the teachers, a kitchen, and a girls (and now even boys) dormitory. The school's moto is, "Give girls an education" and that is just what she is doing. I was fortunate enough to stay in the dorms with the girls and experience their daily lives. If it were not for Hellen, these girls would be married and uneducated. Moreover, the fact that Hellen herself is an extremely educated Maasai woman is truly incredible and she serves as a role model for the aspiring young girls.
The second part of my stay involved returning to Nairobi and experiencing a different kind of Kenyan lifestyle in an area called Kibera, one of the largest slums in Africa (and quite possibly the largest slum in East Africa). I traveled via matatu every morning from where I was staying (which consisted of a middle to upper class neighborhood), to about a five minute drive down the road to Kibera, which opened my eyes to a totally new lifestyle and culture. I got off the matatu and was greeted by teachers from the Red Rose School who walked me to their campus and introduced me to the children. I was able to teach, sing, and play in five classes-baby class through class four. The children were always so excited, especially when I reached the older students. They loved hearing about America (especially snow) and they asked so many questions based on their knowledge of America cinema. Like my visit at Enkiteng Lepa, the Red Rose School proved how education is a powerful tool (and outlet) in the lives of these children.
Both visits opened my eyes to the significance of education in a developing country and specifically the effects of education on children who might not previously had had the chance of going to school. In a rural area (such as Maji Moto), education is saving the lives of young girls. In the slum (Kibera), education is offering an escape for children who are trying to rise above their community and eventually become leaders. These visits allowed me to meet not only incredible children, but also compassionate teachers and leaders who are devoting their lives to improving the lives of children-they give everything, every ounce, every inch, of themselves to the children-something that is truly remarkable. I am grateful to have been given this opportunity to extend my stay in Kenya and experience life as a Kenyan student in two contrasting locations.