Steve Charles—Over the weekend, the Wabash students split into three groups to visit sites in Kisimu, Machakos, and Eldoret.
In his entry below, Kyle Bender reflects on his experience teaching at a rural school near Machakos:
The True Meaning of Determination
Kyle Bender ’12—I have visited and taught in a lot of schools the past few years. None have left a greater impact upon me than the Ndalani Secondary School in rural Matuu, Kenya.
As a student who is intertwining a teacher’s license with a political science degree, I have been in classrooms at the elementary, middle, and high school levels through Wabash’s Education department curriculum. In May, I even spent a week teaching AP Government in the Chicago Public School system through the College’s Urban Education Experience.
It’s safe to say I’ve interacted with a large number of students of varying degrees of skill and enthusiasm. After my visit, I can conclude the Ndalani students set a new standard for me in both of these categories.
When five classmates and I arrived at the school, we were greeted by an assembly of the entire population of 750 students. The term “rock star status” might actually be an understatement. I shook more hands in five minutes than I have in the last five years.
The deputy principal gave us a tour of the school, which consisted of only 10 small classrooms surrounding a dusty courtyard. Teachers must teach classes of 50+ students with lesson books that are sometimes more than 30 years old. The boarding school features bunk halls that cram over 100 students in each building.
Despite these challenges, the students at Ndalani are motivated and engaged to learn. Many come from the Kibera slum in Nairobi, which is considered one of the largest and most devastating slums in the world. Most attend the school only by way of receiving a scholarship or performing manual labor on school grounds to help pay the cost of tuition.
As part of the cultural experience, the Wabash students were each given a classroom full of students to instruct for 40 minutes. We could teach or discuss anything of our choosing. I wasn’t too concerned when I was handed a class of 67 Form I students (the equivalent of high school sophomores). I figured I could speak briefly about my own life in the United States and then spend the remainder of the class learning more about Ndalani and the students themselves.
Instead, I was faced with a constant stream of challenging and thought-provoking questions. While several focused on Barack Obama, whom Kenyans proudly call their own, most dealt with American history and international relations. I was quizzed on inflation, imports and exports, foreign aid, Congressional spending, healthcare, the founding of our nation, and how to become an American citizen. By the time our class period had finished, I felt like I’d run the gauntlet concerning American diplomacy.
But by far the most challenging question came from the smallest girl in the first row, who asked, “Why are American students such as you traveling the world while Kenyan students like me are without basic school supplies?”
This question really struck home for me. It was something I’d been asking myself the past ten days while in this beautiful country. We have witnessed poverty and devastation at its very core; yet the people still endure.
I stammered out a reply to the girl that included all the politically correct answers of Americans realizing their distinct position in global affairs and their awareness to help others through goodwill and fact finding trips. Unfortunately, I couldn’t really put my whole heart behind the answer because I had seen firsthand the challenges this girl and her classmates face. It’s not fair when compared to two week immersion courses and the many resources Americans have at their disposal during educational pursuits.
It is too easy to go through the motions back in the States, idling away opportunities that millions of children across the world only dream of experiencing. I’ll admit I’ve let days of productivity pass by, choosing instead a life of leisure. I’ve taught in American high schools where students with far nicer facilities and resources refuse to participate in classroom activities and instead count down the days until summer vacation. Meanwhile, students in third world countries spend every possible moment studying with the hopes of one day coming to the United States for a new life.
I came to Ndalini and was asked to “teach” a group of Kenyan students. Instead, I became the student, learning the true meaning of determination and hard work from these dedicated students. There is no doubt in my mind I will leave Kenya a better teacher in the future, but also a better person. I owe this newfound appreciation in large part to the schoolchildren I visited in Ndalini.