Helping out in East Africa

The Problem

These past two summers, my sister and I taught English and read books to kids aged two to six in early childhood madrassas, or, schools, in Mombasa, Kenya. The schools are a project of AKF USA, an organization that focuses on “seeking sustainable solutions to poverty, hunger, illiteracy and ill-health with special emphasis on the needs of resource-poor areas.” One of the schools, called the Khairat Nursery School, was located in the city, and the other, the Rahma Majaoni School, was set in a very rural area. Now, my sister and I are not what one would call "experienced" teachers, but we did have passion and enthusiasm to create a simple curriculum for the kids; we incorporated our mainstream American nursery rhymes like "The Itsy Bity Spider" and "Three Blind Mice" into it. We asked our local library to donate as many books as possible, (531 was the final number) bought reams of colorful paper and crayons, and set off to East Africa, carting our supplies to the airport in gigantic bags. But that was just the easy part. Anyone can drop supplies off somewhere and jet away feeling great about his or her heart-warming generosity and compassion. We wanted to go behind the scenes and learn about the East African education system, to physically immerse ourselves into these school communities, and to soak in the distinct culture and atmosphere of the Mombasa. I'll have to admit, though, when the time came for us to actually TEACH the classes, we were scared. With nightmarish visions of American daycare youngsters shrieking and chasing us around with scissors (true story), we entered the school apprehensively. However, all our fears disappeared when we were pleasantly greeted by these amazingly bright and generous kids. They listened politely as we sang an off-key rendition of "The Good Morning Song," and shared with us their Swahili nursery rhymes, (so much cooler than ours) complete with clapping and hip wriggling. They treasured and took care of their crayons, returning them carefully to us even when we assured them that they were gifts. The teachers, as well, were an amazing inspiration to us. They had made excellent use of the resources and space available, creating a fun, educational, and lively atmosphere for the children. For example, for the children at Khairat, the teachers had collected old film canisters to use as building blocks. This was such an eye-opening and rewarding experience for us, and I hope everyone will someday have a chance to go beyond borders and immerse themselves in a different culture and lifestyle.

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