With yesterday’s visit to Kibera in mind, I went to the school and interviewed Father Terry Charlton, Brother Charles Mugisa, and numerous teachers looking for their perspectives on education in Kenya, what inspired them to take part in teaching these desperately marginalized students.
My first interview was with Brother Charles, the Principal, who has been a teacher for 30 years. He is a perfect fit for St. Al’s as his desire is to teach beyond academics saying, “we are not only teaching them [the students] academic work but also other skills…which is why at the end of Form 4 [equivalent to senior year] they just don’t go away. We send them back to the community to do community service…so they learn how to help…”
After a 30-minute conversation with Bro. Charles, I went to Fr. Terry’s office, the Co-Founder of St. Al’s. We began by talking about what his vision was when he first began his work and how that has transformed over the years.
As Fr. Terry explained, education is the critical piece to solving the poverty puzzle. But these are children who do not just arrive at school ready to learn; a building and faculty are not magic wands. An environment had to be created to foster a culture of all-encompassing support. For most of these children, their lunch at school is the only food they eat each day, the majority have lost one or more parents to HIV and are seen as a burden on extended family, and many victims of abuse. The educational program that was created was one that includes mentoring and emotional support. In addition, the school raised funds to solve another problem: the lack of electricity. Each student goes to the school librarian before leaving school and checks out an e-reader. Now students can still do homework even without the benefit of electricity in their home.
After interviewing Fr. Terry and other faculty, I joined Form 1 West (the freshmen girls class) students. Each girl stood in front of my camera and told me what she wanted to be. I spoke about my work and answered lots of questions, and then let them ask me lots more. The girls were laughing so loudly that it became hard to hear their responses. It was my favorite part of my entire time at St. Al’s! Later in the afternoon, I joined them for lunch and it almost felt like I was back in school myself! The welcoming atmosphere and holistic educational approach left a strong and hopeful impact. I have faith that this is truly is a place where some of the world’s poorest girls can become extraordinary women.