We returned to Kibera Wednesday for the first day of the entrepreneurial training class, the part of the trip I’d been most excited about. A local Kenyan businessman and our team leader tag-teamed the morning session, which focused on savings groups and how to think about starting a small business (markets, supply and demand, skill sets, team building, etc.).
Attending the class were about 20 students, all probably between the ages of 18 and 30, and all from Kibera. Most of them also attended NBC’s church in Kibera and some had been with us for the clinics the last two days.
The students were sharp and very funny. (I realized that a lot of Kenyans are funny; the pastors especially were hilarious. Broadly, they have a humor reminiscent of the British, very flat and dry, but with better punchlines.) They seemed eager to learn, jotting down notes and shouting out suggestions when called upon. Probably the biggest teaching barrier came regarding ideas of time — when students were called upon to make five-minute presentations, they’d easily go for 15 or 20 minutes. Even when hurried along, they did not rush. This idea of competing views of time — how Americans hate to “waste” time and see it less relationally and more as a commodity — was abundantly true throughout our trip, but in the classroom environment more than anywhere else.
After only half a day, the class seemed successful. I was learning a lot as well, and the participation of the students made it that much more enjoyable. They truly seemed happy to be there and eager to put what they were learning into practice.
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At lunch time, we returned to the Magoso school to have a meal with the teachers. The lunch was scheduled to be one hour. It went on for four (another example of our different perceptions of time).
We had a tour of the school — its classrooms, library, workshops (the school employs locals to make products that are then sold to support the school). There is a computer room where there are seven old desktop computers (late 90s or early 2000s). There is no internet access, but children might at least get to learn how to type and use a mouse (though I don’t know how more than 400 students share seven computers). We also saw the rooms where children without homes stay. These were completely bare except for bunkbeds, where multiple children slept and shared mattresses. The boy’s room in particular was almost like a cave, very dark and low.
The school has recently built a structure that will allow them to care for and educate disabled children — it had wheelchairs and a room for a nurse to stay. We learned that Kibera is full of disabled children, many of whom are effectively locked inside, unable to go to schools (which cannot handle them) and sometimes hidden away from the narrow streets of Kibera.
The church members we were with said Kibera was in need of services for disabled children, but if they started one it would be utterly overwhelmed with the thousands upon thousands of needy children.
After the tour, we — Nairobi Baptist staffers and the team from Park — were led to the courtyard where all of the students had gathered. They were totally organized, well-behaved, and seemed very happy to see us again. They performed a complete concert for us, with songs, dancing, and poems. They were very, very good. So good, in fact, that their music and dancing program had earned them the right to compete at the national level, where they won third place last year. This is absolutely incredible — that a school with extremely limited resources in one of the poorest neighborhoods in Kenya could compete and succeed against the myriad privileged schools across the country.
The excitement at singing and dancing was clear. Music and fine arts education are a priority at Magoso school, something I thought was pretty cool. All of the children, from young to old, and the teachers and director sang and danced along. It was one of the highest highlights of the week.
After the performance, we went to the library — a room with three bookshelves filled with third-hand books (many technical and clearly not meant for children) in English and a variety of Asian languages (lots of Chinese and Japanese books, presumably unreadable to anyone at the school) — where we had a feast.
The director of the school told her story, which was, again, incredible. The eldest of 18 brothers and sisters, she had to care for them all when her father and both of his wives died within three years of each other. She was about 19. She took a variety of jobs. Her biggest concern from day to day was how to provide food and water for her siblings.
Her story was, as I’ve learned is the theme here, about perseverance and taking opportunities, but more than anything else was about trusting God. From the small business training to the Magoso school to work in the slums, the emphasis is far less about money than it is about faith.
We were introduced to all of the school staff members. At the school there are 502 students, with 463 currently in attendance (I don’t know where the others are). There are 20 teachers, the majority of whom are volunteers. There is very little money for supplies.
Another amazing thing about Magoso school is the fruit it is already bearing for Kibera. Several of the staff members are former students. This is how these things should be. The school gives opportunity to a few, and those few return to Kibera and Magoso to return the investment. I was hugely encouraged to see that students were now becoming teachers. Perhaps in 20 years, the school and its supporting businesses will be staffed entirely by former students. What a huge testimony that would be.
By the time our afternoon at Magoso was over, it was far past the time we should have returned to the training — the students had already left.
We went straight to dinner with some American friends living in a Somali neighborhood in Nairobi. We learned a bit about the plight of Somali refugees, and the oft-tense relations between Somalis and Kenyans — much tainted by the very present influence of al-Shabaab in the Somali community in Kenya and terrorist attacks (Americans will remember the attack on Nairobi’s Westgate Mall last year that killed more than 70).
While I’d expected to interact mostly with Muslims in Kenya, that turned out not to be the case, which was totally fine. Still, it was good to be in a Muslim neighborhood and to experience a bit of that part of Nairobi as well.