It has been recognized that affordable quality education is the main tool to overcome injustice and inequalities and to promote social mobility. to provide equal educational opportunities to all, firstly to girls and women, are the main effort and the main budget line of the most developed societies. in turn, the educational achievements of their citizens guarantee that they remain on top in the list of the most developed societies. but Kibera slum, in nairobi, is special: in fact, it bring tears of hopelessness to the eyes of those who really intend to help those children
The school is a structure of timber and rusty iron sheets. it has three overcrowded classrooms, with no benches; each pupil carries his own bench from home and takes it back every day. there are no textbooks. looking out of the window you can see, just a few meters away, a railway track, rarely used. then the ground slopes down sharply, and there is an endless view of rusty roofs covering houses that are home to a little less than half a million people. further on one can see a very modern highway, high-rise buildings, gardens and parks. Welcome to Kibera, nairobi! Welcome to one of the few community schools that try to give an education to the children of this slum. Sometimes these community schools are a genuine common effort, sometimes they offer education at a lower cost than the public schools, sometimes they are commercial enterprises which do not offer education at all, just keep the children out of the streets for a few hours, and the “headmaster” makes his living. this morning there is a visitor, fiona, a lady from finland who sponsors some of the children. She is a primary school teacher by profession and was moved to tears
When she stumbled into this school during a tourist trip to Kenya and a “guided tour of Kibera” six years ago. yes, because the poverty of Kibera has become a tourist attraction, it is a place where for a fee one can go and see people living in misery, and then go back home and tell one’s friends how shocking it was, how sickening the smell. Since then, fiona has sent some money to pay for the books and the daily lunch of ten children, all girls. now she has mobilized some friends and has brought books for all, and hopes to be able to send money to provide a simple lunch of rice and beans for all every day. it is the first time she comes back, and while she is pleased to verify that all the ten children are still going to school, are growing well and seem in good health, she is dismayed that nothing has changed in their environment. the school is the same, the road is not a road but a path going through rubbish, the children wear clean but torn clothes and some have no shoes. the distance from the bordering middle
Class areas has only increased. She is disappointed “i will continue to help them, with what i can afford. yet these children are serving a life sentence, how can they receive an education that will allow them to reach a decent standard of leaving? my little charity does not even scratch the massive injustice that is stunting their growth.” She is further shocked when she examines the quality of the education, discovering that the three oldest girls in the group she sponsors who attend the fifth primary class are barely able to read and write. one of them, Atieno, is not even able to write her name. the teacher makes things worse by affirming that also in the public school not far away the pupils are at the same level. fiona almost cries, but she conceals
Her tears, not to disappoint the children who eagerly await her praises. She disconsolately shakes her head. “How can these talented and beautiful children make it in life?” she keeps repeating. Her shock is particularly strong because she comes from one of the countries with the highest educational level in the world, where in the classrooms there are fridges and ovens to keep and warm up the food children bring from home, there are interactive teaching boards and of course every pupil has a computer with an internet connection—another world.
In a slum, you can just try to do your best—and keep the children fed, safe and far away from the muddy “streets”.
A “DEAD-END” TO DREAMS
Indeed, if one wants to understand how poverty is self-perpetuating and social upward mobility is practically impossible for children born in poverty, Kibera is a good place for a case study. most children in this school are offspring of people with minimal or no education, who use their manual skills for survival. but manual skills in the peripheries of the African towns are abundant and poorly paid; therefore, they cannot afford to send their children to a decent school and their children will go to swell the number of the unemployed, unskilled labourers. A research conducted in the US states that “since the educational system forces low-income families to place their children into less-than-ideal school systems,
Those children are typically not presented with the same opportunities and educational motivation as are students from well-off families, resulting in patterns of repeated intergenerational educational choices for parent and child, also known as decreased or stagnant social mobility.” the language is carefully chosen not to upset everyone. Can this school in Kibera be described as “less than ideal”? fiona says no, that is too optimistic, this is a “dead-end to a child’s dreams”. it has been recognized that affordable quality education is the main tool to overcome injustice and inequalities and to promote social mobility. to provide equal educational opportunities to all, firstly to girls and women, are the main effort and the main budget line of the most developed societies. in turn, the educational achievements of their citizens guarantee that they remain on top in the list of the most developed societies.
A WOUNDED HUMANITY
Life, every individual life, is a gift from God to the person and to humanity—a gift that is put in the responsible hands of the individual and of the society. our duty, as individuals and as society, is to develop this gift and its potential. the right and the duty of each one is to grow in humanity, to develop the personal potential, putting it at the service of society. it is a right/duty that concerns everyone, even the differently able, the old, but it is a common responsibility to assist the development of the personal potential of the children and the young. fiona is well aware of this. looking out of the window she whispers, “look there, so much unused potential, so many wasted talents.”
It is the reflection of a teacher, of a person passionate about developing her pupils’ potential. other people looking at Kibera—or to any shanty town or underdeveloped rural area in Africa—would think of the people living there as potential voters for the next election, or as a business opportunity. beyond numbers and statistics, beyond the rusty roofs and the ever-present heaps of rubbish, fiona is able to see the faces of the people, of the children, the dreams of a beautiful but wounded humanity.