Student ambassador Miss Wendi Bandi from the United States
24.07.2010 64 °F
This was probably one of the greatest days of my trip so far. Despite the great meetings with the Ministry of Education, the Assisant chief of Kesses and the DAAD conference (details in the next post), I was really wanting to go into some of the schools and actually meet with the students. Its one thing to read about infrastructure and hear from former teachers about the hardships of having 40+ students per class, and actually going in and seeing it for yourself. Miriam, my PhD research guide, invited me to the Moi Private School closing ceremonies. I really didn’t know what closing ceremonies entailed but I was so excited to get into the classroom so I signed on. It was one of the most incredible experiences.
Moi Private school is only about 3km from Moi University and is actually funded and sponsored by the Univesity as well as the government. The ceremony already was started by the time we got there (about 10:30) but as Miriam is one of the parents there, we didn’t have any problem showing up. As we walked in though, the children all turned their attention to the door and saw us. The principal, who recognized Miriam as not only a parent but also a professor at Moi, invited us to go up and sit at the teachers table. So after quietly greeting all the teachers, the awards were given to the children. As it was a Primary school, the years went from Standard 1 – Standard 8. There were at least 90 students per grade which means we had over 700 students staring up at us, eagerly waiting to see which three of their classmates received highest marks. The reward for the top three students was a NEW book for the next school year. I have a ton of pictures (cant wait to put up next week) and the best was of one of the little girls in Standard 1 was looking at her book in awe and the older kids around her were reading it to her and helping her with the difficult tasks.
When the Standard 8 rewards were about to be distributed, the principal said he would like me to present the awards and also greet all the standard 8 students individuals to congratulate them on their accomplishment. This was a huge honor for me as the standard 8 boys and girls who succeeded really are on the path to success in Kenya; graduation rates are still not high and there are so many struggles these students have faced compared to students in other parts of the world. There were only about 40 some students in standard 8 (compared to the 95 in standard 1!) but they really seemed happy to have me there and presented their awards. After I greeted them all, the principal made an announcement and asked the school if they would like me, their student ambassador from the US, to make the closing remarks and I was shocked to be received with all the students clapping and shouting ndiyo (which is yes in Kiswahili). So I got up, actually really nervous with such a responsibility with so many eyes on me, and addressed them. “Jambo wanafunzi!” which is hello students. I don’t think they were ready for me to start off in Kiswahili and didn’t really get a reaction. Great ha. But I tried it again, this time a little louder, with my hand to my ear trying to joke and have them interact and said again “Jambo wanafunzi!!” and they all yelled back “Jambo Mzungu/Miss Wendi” and then giggled a bit but then sat quietly staring up at me. So in a mix of English and Kiswahili, I told them I was from the United States studying community development at the University of Pittsburgh, that this was my first time in Kenya but I liked working with schools the best. I then went on to tell them that I was very proud of each of them for completing exams and that primary school is only the first step, but that it was a really big and important step. That the standard 8 students who I had the pleasure of meeting were very smart, brave and determined young boys and girls and that each of the younger students should follow their example and look forward to school in the years to come. I finished by saying that even as a student in the US, I’ve had my difficulties with school and sometimes it is hard to figure out how to afford it, but with the help of my family, friends and teachers as well as my own dream to go to university, I made it up to the University level and had the chance to come visit Kenya – another dream of mine. So if I can achieve my dreams, each of them can achieve their dreams. Don’t let anyone tell you “no you can’t” because yes you can and you will. When I said Asante sana na pongezi wanafunzi! (thank you and congratulations students) they stood up and clapped and some of them came up to me and gave me hugs and wanted to show me their classrooms.
I got to go to the standard 3 and 4 classrooms and they took pictures with me, showed me the library and told me things they learned that year. After my meetings with the students, the teachers invited me back to the teachers lounge and we had chai and talked for 20 minutes or so about how they would love for me to set up a partnership program for the fall with a high school in the US and with their school so the students could be pen pals, learn more about one another’s cultures and create networks they can use while growing up in different parts of the world. I think it’s a great idea and have already emailed some of the teachers at Burgettstown to set up a meeting once Im home to discuss the possibilities of setting up a “partnership”.
What shocked me the most that a few days later when I was walking to the matatu stage (area where you pick up a matatu into town) two girls stopped me by saying “Madame, are you Wendi, the American student who came to our closing ceremonies?” After I affirmed that I was and inquired their years and names (Katherine and Nancy in standard 6) they asked if it was hard to get into an American school and if I really thought Kenyan students could go there. My response “Of course you can and if you work hard in school, say no to trouble and really dedicate yourself, you can go to a University in the US” They asked if I would come back and help students, especially the girls, and I told them that I would try everything to go and gave them my email, bought them each an orange and then went on to the stage. And, given the position offer I was given, I will be hopefully coming back within the next year or so!