Education is the fashion

Education is the fashion

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Written by guest blogger Sarah Converse, a version of this post originally appeared here, published by Kenya Connect. 

For the last 13 years Kenya Connect has been doing cultural exchange and education development in rural Wamunyu, Kenya. As a new board member, I visited Wamunyu for the first time this month with a team led by our Maryland-based Executive Director, Sharon Runge. I’ve long known that Sharon can single-handedly do the work of a small army when she’s working for the children of Kenya. She was at her busiest during our trip, as she coordinated with our amazing Field Director, James Musyoka, to organize school visits and teaching workshops, and to set up the new Kenya Connect Learning Resource Center library system.

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After just a few days in Wamunyu, I finally truly understood what lights the fire in James and Sharon’s bellies. The children we met from Kenya Connect partner schools inspired me more than I could have imagined. The vast majority of children in Wamunyu live in extreme poverty, and the schools lack electricity and plumbing.  Students attend class in rooms with dirt floors and often share their textbooks with 2 or more classmates.

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And yet, from the very first school we visited, Nunga Primary, I saw the most amazing enthusiasm for learning. I spent time in 7th and 8th grade classrooms watching math lessons, during which every last child raised a hand to answer the teacher’s questions. And they didn’t just sit quietly with their hands up; they were straining out of their chairs, calling “Teacher, Teacher!” and snapping their fingers.

When did any of us see that in an American junior high school? The overriding thought I had is this: shouldn’t the enthusiasm these children have for learning be matched by the commitment we make to them?

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The next day, the team held the first Kenya Connect math workshop for teachers. And on the day following that, we were able to put some new lessons into practice at Mbaikini Primary, a long-time Kenya Connect partner school.

The team had the opportunity to teach algebra lessons in 7th and 8th grades using only tissue paper and dried beans. Remember ‘x’, (the unknown) from your algebra courses? Why not represent it with a small tissue paper bundle of an unknown number of beans? A handful of mystery bundles and some extra beans, and we had hands-on algebra! The kids got it, and the teachers were enthusiastic: all the teachers I met were open to every possible avenue to improve the education that their students receive.

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After lessons at Mbaikini, we were treated, as at every school, to songs, dancing, and poetry. One of the poems contained the line “education is the fashion.” I decided to adopt that as the unofficial trip motto. You can keep your Oscar de la Renta and Chanel. I’ll take education for the children of Kenya instead.

Upon returning from this trip, my commitment to the cause of community-driven education development in Kenya is now greater than ever. In only 5 days, the people of Wamunyu, and especially the children, worked their way deep into my heart, where they will remain. For these children, education is the fashion. I want to work to make it the best it can be.

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For more about Kenya Connect, visit their website here

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