Posted by Heather Hutchinson
Today started out early, leaving the Mennonite House all packed up for a new location tonight. We had a full day of visits in Nairobi and didn’t want to waste a minute. As we began driving through the smog filled city and down rough dirt roads, we were surrounded by busy people, animals, waste and a distinct African smell. A smell that is impressed in my senses forever, one that is so hard to describe but takes your breath away (not in a good way). We began to see our first destination for the day, the Mathere slums.
Perfect location for a school… not!
The van was quiet as we all took in the sights, sounds and smells. You see pictures and you hear stories but it definitely does not compare to an in-person visit. In America, we see the poor living in brick two room homes with windows busted out, restrooms, electricity, and paved streets, but in Africa the homes are mud filled, square, aluminum spaces, they may or may not have a door, open aired windows, no electricity, and no restrooms. These are spaces that some people would not even put their animals and here are people living 10,000 miles away from us and surviving in the worst of the worst conditions. We are so blessed!!
We arrived at the slum school where we met Pastor Kennedy of the school and he led us on a tour. Being a former teacher this tour was so exciting to me. We walked through the classes where they have brought in boys and girls from the slum, all clean and dressed so nicely in their school uniform and all so obedient and eager to learn. The classrooms were those mud rooms with aluminum outsides and roofs and a few wood posts here and there. They had taken great pride in nailing small chalkboards to the walls and colorful posters of letters, letter sounds, and colors. They start at preschool age (2-4) and then have grades going up to level 8 from there. After visiting each room, meeting teachers, seeing their passion for education and the Lord and introducing ourselves we broke up into groups to read and teach felt bible stories with the kids, sing songs, pray and make rings with the girls and small foam books with the boys. The children were such great listeners, and the teachers were so willing to help translate and discuss life in the slum and school with us. I had the privilege of talking with two young teachers at the school that share a classroom with a piece of fabric on rings that slides on a wire to divide the classroom. Can you imagine how difficult that is to teach and learn in an environment where the teacher and students can hear what is happening on the other side of the curtain? As I continued to talk to Florence and Felicity, I felt myself getting overwhelmed by emotions for the girls and their situations. Felicity was able to speak English a little better than Florence so she was able to answer many of my questions. She is 23 years old and grew up in the slum, attended boarding school and has hopes of attending university one day.
Susan with two of the Mathere teachers
When asked why she was at the slum school teaching she replied, “because I want to help these kids, we have so many street kids that are pregnant at 15 and 16 and contracting HIV and AIDS, I want these kids to get out of here and get off the streets.” I was so taken back, she is here out of a desire in her heart to change the lives of slum children, she gets the importance of an education and where it can take you. I feel like many times in America, the importance of education is lost. She also told me that the teachers at the school, (who mind you are well spoken, sharp dressed, respected, hard working and smart) , do not get paid. I said REALLY?? I cannot imagine putting all this time and effort into these kids and not getting paid, hoping for donations or high test scores so the parents might give something. I felt really bad for ever complaining about my $28,000 teaching salary. Most teachers work a second job on the weekends to make money. One of the biggest things I have noticed so far about Africa is there are no lazy people, they are all dressed in their finest, busy working all day, you will find these people out and about all hours of the day and night, trying to make a shilling or two. They are proud of their hard work and proud that they can provide for their families needs, no handouts and no begging. So interesting to see! We finished our time there and gave our farewell hugs to all these wonderful teachers. Then, I lost it, I could not hold back all the emotions that were building up all morning during our drive and visit. God please let me never forget these people and their stories and their needs. Definitely feel unworthy of all God’s blessings on me. I don’t deserve them, not one of them.
Karen teaching about Jonah and the whale
As we drove away, we headed towards Pastor Harrison’s church where a women’s conference was being held. We first visited the church’s small school and saw what was going on there, another school with willing teachers and eager students. We went to a tent church just around the corner for the conference and three of our brave girls, Cheslie, Ashley and Kimberly shared. They did such a wonderful job being transparent and allowing the Lord to work through them to speak to these women. The time was definitely filled with the Holy Spirit. We all were again overwhelmed by the love of the Lord that is so evident in these African women. You can tell in their speech and outward expressions that their hope is in the Lord. Their enthusiasm is contagious. This ended our first leg of the trip and we loaded up and headed to the airport to depart for Eldoret and drive to Kitale. What a day and what a God we serve! A God who is seen Holy by the poor and powerless!