NOTE: This blog is a repost from March. On Monday we'll be making our most important post of the year as we launch a huge effort to support eduKenya. For now, please check out the story below. On this day of Black Friday spending, we'd ask you to put a little bit aside for giving come Monday.
Around 6 years ago my good friend Adam (this is Tony talking) was interning at a church in Nairobi, Kenya. Despite all the excitement and lead up to a trip where he was moving halfway across the world, the email I got went in a totally different direction. Adam quickly knew that the internship wasn't what he was looking for and had crafted a plan which would later become EduKenya. I thought he was crazy. It was extremely ambitious, very costly and seemed like a lot for one person to take on. Luckily Adam never tried to take it on himself.
From the start, EduKenya was built to empower people who would otherwise not get a chance. Starting in a very small village in one of the biggest and poorest slums in the world, EduKenya partnered with a very small, very humble church located within the community. The goal was to build a school. But not a school that would be funded by rich donors. A school that would be run by local Kenyans, serving local Kenyans and, eventually, would be self-sustainable from any outside aid. It was a big goal.
We've been hearing about EduKenya for years and this year we finally got a chance to visit. It was amazing. As you will see and hear below, children at the Kwa Watoto school are thriving and show a rare glimmer of hope in a place where hope is hard to come by. The teachers in the school (many of whom grew up and still live in the same slum) have risen from incredible circumstances and are now leading a school with students who are thriving academically.
The school (and the Mathare slum) doesn't come without challenges though. Big challenges. We saw things that seem unimaginable. The village where most of the students come from has streets (if you call them that) literally lined with trash and human sewage. Entirely families homes are constructed from tin and are smaller than many American bathrooms. Many children are orphans. Many don't attend school. Many wander the streets barefoot everyday with no supervision. Many have HIV contracted from their parents. As awful as the conditions are, that's not even the most heartbreaking part.
We met a boy who was around 9 years old and was completely emotionally distant. His teacher (the person who sees him the most) said that he never smiles. Never. Spending a few minutes with him seemed to make it clear that something has happened to him. Probably something terrible. It was easier to not even think about it.
Amy met a young girl who walked 20 minutes to get to school every day. Her walk should be less than 10 minutes, but it's dark in the morning and she has to avoid certain streets. That night as we discussed this, I asked why she has to avoid those streets. After all, they're her people and she's so young. I won't repeat the answers I got, but just hearing what could happen to such a small girl brought tears to many of our eyes. But the truth is that even on the 'good' streets, we needed two local escorts to be there.
These are just a few of many things you find out by spending a few days in the slum. But luckily there's hope. Programs like EduKenya and schools like Kwa Watoto give these children hope. They also give them food, shelter, clothing and education. They might not prevent every young boy from joining the gangs, but when you see the hope that exists inside the school walls, you realize that big things are happening.
As I mentioned before, EduKenya is in the process of making investments in the community. The return on these properties will help to eventually make the school self-sustainable. They're teaching skills to adults so they can earn income. But right now the organization and the school badly need support to get to that point. In any given month a shortage of just a few thousand dollars could prevent them from being in school. If you're interested in the story, I would urge you to check out and share the story of EduKenya. They need your support.
To move on to the photos, here is our documentation of our time at the school and observing the programs. Beneath each image you'll see a story or some facts about what you're seeing. Soon we'll be sharing some other photos from our time in Africa as well. Thanks again for taking the time...
A village called Jangwani resides as a section of the Mathare slum. It is roughly the size of 5 football fields but is home to around 20,000 people.
From this vantage point, three Jangwani homes are easily seen. These shacks make up the entire home for a family to live in. Often times when a tenant hasn't paid rent, their door is removed, which opens the opportunity for theft and rape.
Like many in Jangwani, this boy rarely sees a mzungu (white person) and can't help but stare. Many children have never left the slum, even for a day.
Dozens of homes are crammed into a small street. In Jangwani, privacy is virtually non-existant, while crime runs rampant.
A young boy stands in Jangwani, one of the poorest areas within an extremely poor slum. He is related to a student at the school.
At the Believer's Centre church in Jangwani, the bathrooms are marked with chalk. However, most people use the government built community restrooms, which are extremely unsafe at night.
The Jangwani landscape often includes drying clothes, a running trench filled with human sewage and homes that are less than 100 square feet for an entire family. On the left side of the photo alone are around 10 homes.
A disinegrating pile of trash is located between several homes in Jangwani. A school-aged boy walks the village barefoot during the day.
The roofs of two Jangwani homes converge. Most homes are only 6 or 7 feet tall. In the street, a boy without a school spends his day by himself.
Beans dry outside a home in Jangwani. In a residential area, it is rare to see business initiative. These beans are drying less than 15 feet from the sewage stream.
In Jangwani, two twin boys smile in the street. Like most streets, they are filled with trash and sewage. The tin buildings are several different homes.
A woman plays and poses for a photo with her young boy inside Jangwani. One of the rare times a child is seen with a parent.
A faded bumper sticker on an abandoned car reflects the very religious nature of the Kenyan people.
Two boys in the street of Jangwani. These boys may never go to school and may never learn English or Math. Without school, their prospects for employment become dramatically lower.
Bishop Isaiah sits in the church that he is the pastor of. It is the only church and safe haven in Jangwani and was the founding place of the Kwa Watoto school.
The street and building where Kwa Watoto school is located. The 4 story building (on left) includes apartments (owned by EduKenya) and parts of the school.
A view of the apartments above Kwa Watoto school. EduKenya owns (and is in process of buying) apartments whose rent will help to make the school self-sustainable.
A classroom in Kwa Watoto is roughly 10"x12", which, although small, is larger than some of the student's entire homes.
Outside the school hangs a P.E. jacket from one of the above apartments. Some of the student's families live directly above the school.
Two children run in the courtyard, as seen from inside a staff room in Kwa Watoto school.
Students in Class 4 search for an answer in their workbook. The natural light is sometimes the only light in the room, as electricity often fails.
Dominic, a teacher at Kwa Watoto, started volunteering at the church in Jangwani. With the support of EduKenya, he now has his teaching certificate and is pursuing his degree.
Two students raise their hands to answer a question. In most cases, when the teacher asks a question, nearly all the students will try to give the answer saying "Cha" (short for teacher) in hopes to get called on.
With the teacher's watchful eye, a student draws out circles to complete his math problem.
The youngest students are often well-aware when cameras are present and, unlike many Amercian children, rarely miss the opportunity to have their photo taken.
Mr. Mule, the teacher of Class 5 and the school's disciplinarian, is one of the school's newest teachers and is very proud of his relationship with his students.
A student turns in her test and awaits her scores. Despite the schools limited resources and incredibly difficult circumstances, the students have very high test scores in comparison to many other city schools.
Students await an answer from their teacher. Class 4 is one of 8 classrooms in the school.
A teacher takes pause during a test. The test questions are written on the board and the students each have a notebook to record answers.
Students play and laugh in the courtyard.
Students in the youngest class take their daily afternoon nap. Remarkably all the students sleep despite the surrounding noise and the teacher's adjustments to their body positions.
Students pose for the camera in the way most young Kenyans prefer… the thumbs up.
A Kenyan recording artists named Insect is surrounded by many of the younger children. His visit was to check out the school. Afterwards, he offered to volunteer to start a weekly music program with the students.
Two students play hide and seek in the school courtyard. In the background is the main entrance for the school, a small, open door within the gate.
Students in Class 4 (ages 9-10) stand to recite the entire chapters of Psalm 139 and Psalm 125.
Students at Kwa Watoto stand and smile as they greet a visitor.
Michael, the Head Teacher at Kwa Watoto school stands in front of a list of his teacher's assignments. Michael is only 25 and is already the equivalent of a Principle despite growing up in a slum where many of his schoolmates are now infamous terrorists.
Students wait nervously in line to enter their health screening on the day that the clinic visits the school.
A student gets his medical screening during one of the schools regular clinics. Every student gets a checkup that they likely wouldn't have otherwise.
A doctor gives medicine and instructions to a student after their health screening.
A worker builds a necklace in the home-based care program run by EduKenya. This program is set up so that women of the community can learn skills that they can use for income.
The items made by home based care are laid out on a table and ready to be sold. They surround a Bible which is being read by a participant.
The teacher demonstrates hair techniques to the student who watches in a mirror.
This faucet serves as the sole water supply for the students to wash their hands and the kitchen staff to wash dishes.
A member of the kitchen staff prepares shallots for the student's lunch. Behind, a child washes his hands.
A kitchen worker prepares a large pot of rice that will feed all 171 students at the school. The small kitchen employs three kitchen staff members.
The kitchen staff looks on as a teacher serves meals to his students.
Without the school-provided meals, many of the children would go without lunch or would have to find it for themselves while wandering the slum.
A student displays his lunch, which today consists of rice, lentils and an orange slice (oranges look much less orange in Kenya).
Children from the community are often bystanders to shool activities. With the school students at lunch, these children were happy to receive some attention.
Two students have some fun at the expense of their orange slices.
Once they receive their lunch, students return to their seats in class to eat. When finished, they'll return their plates to the kitchen. Students spend almost the entire 8 hour day in their classroom.
Students line up on the way to Physical Education. Kenya requires schools to have about 1 acre for P.E. classes, so the students need to walk to the Salvation Army lot (one of the few with enough space).
Students stretch in unison during P.E. class.
A boy performs a back bend and finds a camera on his way back.
A teacher demonstrates a jump to the students. Since the staff is limited, teachers are also in charge of P.E. as well as the clubs.
As the classes break up, they have their own activities. Here a girl jumps rope with her class.
The students dance by mimicing and listening to their teacher, who dances in the middle of the group.
Students do crunches during P.E. class. The whole school participates in the activities at the same time.
Students run through a series of streches, jumps and exercises.
A student runs from the outhouse to the Salvation Army building where the school talent show is being held.
Students cheer on their fellow students during the school's talent show in the Salvation Army building. Like most buildings in the slum, the roof is made of tin.
A class recites a poem to the onlooking students. The Salvation Army building, despite being largely unused, is by far one of the largest open spaces in the entire slum and is constructed of concrete.
Students leap up to answer a question during the talent show.
A student shows her face paint and P.E. shirt during a break in the talent show.
Class 4 performs a memorized reading of Psalm 139 at the talent show.
Njenga dances with a class during their performance. It's very common to see teachers and staff dancing with their students.
Among the most common talents is drumming. Uncommonly good drumming. Most classes have a designated drummer for when they sing.
A blindfolded girl attempts to find a piece of candy with the help of the other student's voices.
Two teachers have fun while participating in a balloon blowing contest in front of the students. The Kwa Watoto teachers form a special relationship with the students and often sing and dance with them.
Students of the Pre-Unit class display their painted faces and perform a song during the school's talent show.
A girl wanders in to the talent show off the streets of Jangwani. Like many children, her parents are nowhere in sight as she wanders the slum.
A girl plays drums while the dance club dances in the background with their teacher. Their costumes are made from recyclables.
The drama club performs an emotional poem about the problematic parenting that many of the children face.
The dance club performs. The school has many after-school clubs to learn skills but to also keep the kids in the school environment longer, which most students welcome.
The Head Teacher Michael holds up a Bible as he speaks to his students during their talent show. Kwa Watoto is a Christian school that started in a church in Jangwani.
One of the staff addresses the students. In Kenyan culture, it's common for the authority figures to give a formal greeting or talk.
Before we (their visitors) left, the students each said an individual prayer for the departing friends. During the assembly, the students sang for us, danced with us and recited their school song. Then they prayed for us. It sounded like a swarm of bees. A very, wonderful and emotional swarm.
Thanks again for taking the time to read. You can find out more about EduKenya here.