“…The schools in Amagoro are very different from our schools…”
In December, 2013, then 10-year-old Ben traveled with his mother, Kim, to Amagoro, Kenya. In the following essay, he shares his observations from the visit.
When you look out of the shiny window of the humungous plane that came from New York, outside the window is a whole new continent. Nairobi is a big city like any other city with highways and malls. Then we get to Amagoro and it is something different: The streets are made of dirt. There are cows walking on the street, and men with thin strips of wood are tapping them on their tails to keep them on the path. The people in the village live in huts made from dirt and cow manure.
The people who live in Amagoro do not have a Stop and Shop. They have little stands that sell basic foods like apples and bananas. The stands look wobbly and moth-eaten. There are also stands that sell cheap phones. The few concrete stores are painted with bright colors and the names of products like Coca Cola and phone companies are painted on the sides of the building. Many companies like Coca Cola pay to have the buildings painted, and they paint their logos right on the side of the building. There are no cars, school buses, or motorcycles. People walk everywhere, even though they often don’t have shoes. There are no neighborhoods, and nothing is close by, so if you want to buy something from the stores you have to walk at least 5 miles.
The people of Kenya speak Swahili and English, and may also speak another tribal language. You may know some Swahili words. Jambo means hello in Swahili. You can hear this word in an iPhone commercial. If you have seen the Lion King, you know a few Swahili words. Hakuna Matata means “No problems” in Swahili and Simba means lion.
The schools in Amagoro are very different from our schools. The schools are made up of several long thin buildings. One building houses the first and second graders, another building houses the third and fourth grade, another the fifth and sixth, and another seventh and eighth. There is a cooking building and a building for kindergarten. The windows are often broken during the rainy season and never replaced. The windows are thin, and the central government doesn’t pay enough money to keep the school in good repair. They need to raise money by themselves to repair their buildings, and sometimes, organizations like Elewana give them small grants to make repairs. In Kenya, they don’t have winter and summer as seasons, but they do have a dry season and a rainy season. Kids go to school in both the rainy and dry seasons. They do not have summer vacation, but they get a month off from school during December and another month off in August. Each grade has one or more giant classrooms with around 80 students in each. Six children sit at each desk, on long benches. Most kids do not have pencils, pens or paper. One pencil is shared by many kids, and they take turns using it. In school they learn English, Swahili, Kenyan history, Science, Art and gym. They cook all the food for the school in a special hut. It has a large fire and the kids collect sticks to heat the water. For lunch they serve rice, tea, and ugali, which is a corn mush. On special occasions they have samosas, which is African ravioli.
Africa is an extraordinary place. It is much different from America, but the people are agreeable and thankful for what they have. You will know as soon as you put your foot on African soil that your life will change.