Meagan McGovern Travels to Kenya for Summer Teaching Program
For the past month, I have been working in a slum of Nairobi, Kenya called Kibera with Shining Hope for Communities, a non-profit organization that works to empower women and girls in the community through a free school for girls. Kibera is the largest slum in all of Africa, and it is difficult to fully describe and portray the conditions in the area. The all girls school I was working at, the Kibera School for Girls, brings the most vulnerable and brightest girls to the school. Each year the school gets over 600 applicants for only 40 spots.
Each year during the summer, SHOFCO brings about 20 American volunteers to Kenya to work with about 20 college age Kenyans to teach the girls for a month while the KSG teachers do teacher development work provided by American teachers. One Kenyan and one American are paired up for groups of about ten girls of the same age group. I was given Pre-K girls who became the loves of my life. These girls have been in school only for about three months and most had never spoken English before. Many are already learning to read and write at ages four and five with barely any prior knowledge of the English language. Each and everyday these girls amazed me with their joy, their love of learning and school, and their intelligence. As we discuss in our education classes, often times it can be easy to label English learners and those living in poverty as deficit learners and thinkers and focus on the things that these students cannot do or they don’t have versus all the amazing things these students bring to the classroom. Obviously working with Pre-K wasn’t always the easiest, and they definitely knew which buttons to push, but I fell in love with these girls and they have definitely helped me learn a thing or two about patience and understanding which will help in my future teaching, so thank you girls!
The girls live in a world where poverty is real, rape is a daily threat for women, and terrorism is right outside the slums. It was sometimes easy to forget the conditions these girls are surrounded by on a daily basis when they are so full of joy, but I was faced with it during one of my Kenyan co-teacher’s lessons. He asked girls to come up with some ideas about what they could talk about in a play based on things happening in their community. The ideas included rape, child abuse, sanitation, education, terrorism, and children’s rights. These are things that many of us never have or will have to think twice about. It was a big fat reminder of the lives my girls lead outside of the classroom. It was also a reminder for me that as teachers, we need to really understand the lives our students lead outside the classroom as best as we can. I will never fully understand what living in poverty is like. I have seen it, but I knew that I always had the option to leave Kibera whereas my girls don’t have that option and may never have that option. However, the confidence and the ambitions of all the girls at KSG are very high, and many want to become the President, teachers, lawyers, and continue to stay in school and work hard. Their drive for learning and living life to the fullest has inspired me more than words can say.
On the weekends we were fortunate enough to see the beauty Kenya has to offer on hikes to Mt. Longonot, a 9000 ft. active volcano and through Hell’s Gate National Park. After the Summer Institute was over some of us went on a safari and got to experience the amazing wildlife. The true beauty of Kenya though is the people. Not only were my girls incredible, but the Kenyans I had the opportunity and privilege to meet were so welcoming and let us into their world, and for that I am forever grateful.
I am having a hard time fully explaining my experiences because I am still processing it all myself, but I know that this month was one of the most amazing experiences I have ever had in my life. These girls will always have a special place in my heart and I am forever grateful for this opportunity. I know that this experience will play a significant role in the kind of teacher I strive to be and how I can help communities in the United States through education.
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