September 11: When pride equals education September 11, 2013

People at ceremony Kenya

Posted in on September 11, 2013

I grew up in an affluent suburb of Chicago where I attended a public high school that ranks in top tier of schools throughout the USA. From there I attended Clemson University, where I achieved a BA in Communication Studies and minoring in Business Management. I was very blessed not only to be lucky enough to grow up in an area that provided a top-flight high school education, but to also have a family that provided tuition for my college education.

Am I proud of my academic achievements? Sure, I’ve been happily assisted in resume building. But if you asked me point blank about how I felt about school I’d say something along the line of “it sort of ‘happened’ rather than was ‘achieved’”.

Would you answer that question of pride any differently? How about your friends/colleagues/family?

While there are an elite number who have earned degree upon degree and have their careers based upon this status, I have found more often than not that education seems to be largely overlooked in my social circles, namely the processes by which we are able to be educated or at least have the capabilities to seek education.

In the last week here in Maai Mahiu I have been found this to be quite opposite, and continue to be amazed by the intense pursuit of schooling, let alone actually receiving honors and degrees. Education is everything in Kenya, and the first topic of conversation from parents talking about their kids, or peers asking us about our experiences. There are hardships that many have overcome to seek out schooling, and in situations I’ve encountered a devotion to give a child an opportunity that wasn’t available for them.

I will forgo telling the processes of school systems here in place of a few stories:

  • Craig highlighted the story of our driver, Paul, in an earlier blog post. Paul’s parents were peasant farmers and couldn’t send him to university because of the fees. As his own kids grow older though, Paul is determined to put them in college starting with his 16 year old son who wants to be a lawyer. Tuition is $1k a semester, and Paul is committed to be able to afford this by the time his son turns 18.
  • Our other driver, Joe, is quiet and shy in comparison to Paul. When he showed up the other day with a giant grin, we knew something was going on. “Today is my daughter’s first day of University,” Joe said. ” She is the first in our family to attend university.”
  •  On Tuesday last week we visited members of the Maasai tribe, who are one of the last indigenous tribes of the 42 here in Kenya. We visited their school and delivered pencils and other school supplies, which I have never seen a schoolchild so happy to receive. I couldn’t help but notice a few kids off to the side of the celebration that didn’t have school uniforms, and therefore weren’t allowed to participate in the fun. Despite it being a law in Kenya to send your child to school, the parents of these kids either couldn’t afford, or refused to pay the 300 Shillings a semester (roughly $3) to send their child to school.
  • Greyshawn, the foreman of the construction group we’ve been working with scored a 68 out of 72 on his entrance exam into university with hopes of being an engineer. Much like Paul, his parents couldn’t afford to send him so he’s been working construction the last 20(ish) years making close to $5 a day. Greyshawn wants to make sure he doesn’t have to put his kids in a situation he himself faced.
  • Rocky is heading the agriculture project at the CTC which will supplant the KTC we are helping to build. He has no formal training in horticulture or agriculture studies and was never able to afford the university tuition. But despite his quiet demeanor, Rocky’s passion for learning is infectious, travelling to conferences across Africa to learn more about agricultural studies. Of the 600 species of trees found in Kenya, Rocky is planning on bringing between 200-300 to the new CTC site alone. There is no doubt his developed knowledge has allowed him to make connections across the country to allow this to happen.
  • The current Director of the CTC here in Maai Mahiu is an incredible man named Jeremiah. He grew up locally in a poor family, remembering “I always wished I could be adopted into another family who would give me a different chance. I didn’t want to be associated with the family I had.” Ultimately Jeremiah made it all the way to Ann Arbor where he received a Masters in Counseling at the University of Michigan. Upon being faced with an opportunity to take a well-paying position in Grand Rapids, Jeremiah decided to pack up his family and come back to the place he knew could benefit most from his support and teachings, and to give the chance to bring educational opportunities that he never had: Maai Mahiu.

These are just a few stories that I’ve come across over the last 10 days, but they’ve all led me to understand that there is a thirst for knowledge and education here that is undeniable, and one that I selfishly thought may have only just aligned to my own past experiences. I can only be so lucky to hold such high expectations for myself as I move through life, and will make sure that opportunities that Paul or Greyshawn may have missed out on will be recognized as sacred ones I will make sure not to lose sight of when raising my own children.

I couldn’t be more ecstatic about the opportunities that the KRC will have to offer the people of Maai Mahiu to help bridge the digital divide. To help bring access to education makes me flush with pride, and without doubt has refueled my own desire for knowledge. I can’t wait to hear what this means for all of my new friends in Maai Mahiu as well.

Alex Drozd
DWC Softchoice Cares Participant
Kenya, September 2013

Posted in on September 11, 2013