What am I doing for Kenya?

By EDWARD OGUTU

Elections come to a close; the teacher goes back to chalking on the intrinsic board, and the medics to their ailing patients, the construction workers to their incessant hammering on the concrete walls, the business folk to their mercantile ways. All back to the business of normality. Enter the common mwananchi, the one who trudges painfully along towards the pangs of the painful livelihood that awaits with trepidation. It is inescapable, isn’t it? There seems to be an eternal wall of imprisonment for them. At the pains of being called stale, I say again. There is no escape and I feel this more so for our young who go back to, well, this place, with lopsided smiles and cheap laughter, we fervently call it our ‘beloved country’.

I live in a dominantly Kikuyu neighborhood, where even mama mboga (vegetable vendor) extends a greeting in Kikuyu because here, it is unthinkable not to know a word or two of the Kikuyu dialect. My relationship with her and her children has taught me one valuable lesson. All Kenyan children, regardless of who wins the election, are sidelined by our hopeless education system to a life of struggle. Picture this, focus…now press the shutter button; the obscure picture of the public school setup shows up. A child in public school cannot tell how many students are in their class or where their performance places them among them all. A private school student speaks better English than their much older public school counterpart in the same class. Whenever they visit me, I take it upon myself to ask about their studies and they cannot recall most of it. It makes me want to introspect over my role as a Kenyan citizen.

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Image courtesy of ABC

The forthcoming elections will come and move along. As others have. We shall all need to reflect on our role as citizens in creating a better life for our young. Once the pomp and the grandeur of “Mtu Wetu” is done, shall we ask what exactly  are we contributing to issues such as low-quality education, child marriage, child violence, lack of sanitary pads for remote based school going children and all that has plagued the children of our country for quite a while? Even if the perception of this education system differs, what I experience in daily life is appalling. What policies have our ruling class enacted to ensure that the imbalances in the education sector are well balanced and corrected? Since I see none, the cycle is far from being broken and it may be just that our ruling class is taking us for another uncomfortable ride towards the distant bleakness.

Free education may be their marching cry but with what I have seen, nothing has changed from before. Free and without well-laid mechanisms for accomplishing the goal of quality education, is all just a waste of time. Should I question if the teachers are untrained or whether the children are mentally challenged are getting the well deserved educational attention? But the children have dreams. They have valid dreams which we dare bullhorn into their young ears to achieve against all odds. But I fear it will not happen anytime soon. Not in near decade. When the education system crumbles, it is impossible to expect a future for them.

Let alone a better one. I see most of them following the paths that I took including robbery, prostitution, and other vice.

I envision them residing in rugged, ill-spaced out and weather corroded mabati (iron) homesteads enforced with old plastic tins to keep out the cold and rain within a mushrooming slum because they were not given a chance to fight for better, like other children.

Despite the school doing so little to teach the students, there is one person who has made me tick. Jaymo has come from our common poverty and still done something for himself. He collects tins, plastic paper bags and electronic components from trash sites and then sells them for a price. To him, the trash is a commodity that he can sell to buy himself, food, a trouser, shirt and other upkeep. This knowledge wasn’t shared in school, nor are any lessons on entrepreneurship. But, when I look at him, I see a desire in him to mold his future into a meaningful expanse. Finally! An instance we can get critical lessons from.

Politics and the changing governments offer little hope of changing the existing systems. Children rarely have the means to change the fortunes of their poverty stricken families. Their home is not a place you enter in comfort, particularly if you hate the stench of poverty, unkemptness, untidiness, drunkenness and general unworthiness. But there is still something we can teach. Isn’t there, now?

I am not well off. No. Not in the sense of the word. But I give such children access to a place where they may find comfort, learn, and see something new and live under great life experiences. When I started up my business, I made it a goal to show them that they could be more if they so desired it. My passion for computers is something I would love to pass onto them for it has helped me despite my lack of education. Most of them do not pride themselves in having parents and therefore no role models. Taking on this responsibility gives me more determination to improve my own life. I take the time to impart on them the knowledge of struggles, mistakes, and lessons I have learned in my life. I hope that someday, it may change their lives even with the lack of formal education. That is the role of an active citizen, to contribute my share to the society.

How I hold on to the prayer that Kenyans would wake up from the slumber and realize the emptiness in the promises of their leaders and ask themselves the real questions. “What am I doing to better the lives of tomorrow’s children?” “What mechanisms am I laying in place for all the children to find the prestige equal education?” We are going back to work after the elections, but are we settling back into our lives and routines or are we working to change tomorrow. What contribution do you make to the future of your child’s education?  Instead of teaching the young to rely on the politicians, we should teach them to be self reliant. There is this mechanic I know who has his child as his handyman. He sent his son on errands around the garage and taught him much of his work. When I talked to him about it, he opened up and said there were simply no opportunities for his child in education. He would learn no skill to help his life. But as an apprentice, he can have the skill to shape his own future.

At the time of this writing, my life is shaped by the things my father taught me as a child and little about the subjects I learned at school. I learned my English from him, the knowledge of computer from home, and the ability to perceive and process mistakes from great teachers. All these help put food on my table. And they all came from the instructions of my father even as I flunked then ignored school; he helped me mold my own future. What of our parents today? As a parent, what form apprenticeship have you taken your child through? Find an antidote to the election-induced madness for a while and deeply reflect on the impact you have on your child. Are you creating a circle of independence or dependence on a government that does not see past the superficiality of the citizen’s concerns?

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Ask yourself the hard questions that stand apart from all the confusion of a single day and focus instead on a grand life. The politicians have done their job. The election is their special day to say what they please and get us to cheer. But what about you, me, our children and the common mwananchi (citizen); what do we go back to?  I hope we learn to teach our young and help mold our future.  I hope we do.

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