Soon it will be dark and I will have to leave this cyber café in Machacos town – they say it is not so safe for me to walk at night, though the hotel is not far. I wish I could even begin to tell you of all the wonderful people we spoke to today, but I at least will be able to tell you about one.
We went to see Edward Nzinga to ask him why maybe 80% of Kenyan children enter primary shool and fewer – 30% – secondary school. To get to his office we bumped along a muddy road past shops in corrugated tin huts with names like Success Salon until we reached the compound of the African Brotherhood Church, which is responsible for 500 nursery schools, 386 primary schools, 64 secondary schools, 27 polytechnics and 5 colleges. We had already visited one college and two primary schools, plus one polytechnic, so we wanted to meet the man in charge.
Although he’s not tall, the man who welcomed us in wearing a dazzling brown suit had a certain stature, and a winning smile.
When we asked him why schools in Kenya are not reaching everyone, he said,
“Poverty is the main reason. Let me tell you my life story. I was born into a poor family. I had to do menial jobs from the time I was four years old. I went to school, yes, but it took determination.
In the first place, I had only tattered clothes. I was almost naked, so how could I go out like that? I was embarrassed. And sometimes there was no food in the house. How can you tell a child ‘Wake up and go to school’ when the child has not eaten? He is hungry, he has tattered clothing, so he doesn’t want to go out. And the parents, they don’t mind so much because that means the child can work. So many end up being herds boys, or house girls, or they take to the streets.
But for those who pass the fear to go to primary school may not finish because there are so many other things calling for their attention, such as to make money. You don’t see the fruits of education for many years.
But I was determined, and I continued. When I went to high school my main job was to cut wood from the forest and make charcoal. If I made 10 bags of charcoal, I would give 5 to the landowner.
But it takes 5 days to make charcoal, so if my school fees were due and the charcoal was yet to be ready, I was lucky because the District Commissioner would write me a letter to say that when my charcoal was ready I would pay them.
If someone had decided to send me home from school because I did not have the school fees in time, my life would have been over.
I was thinking of this the other day when we were looking over the students’ grades and I saw one girl had failed in three subjects. Why did she fail? She lost her father, her mother, and then, towards the end of her course her grandmother passed away. So I said, she has really tried, we must keep her in school.
I was the youngest of three children and when I got my education and got a job as a Deputy School Headmaster, I wanted to help my siblings. My sister went to be a house help, but it was too late, I couldn’t help her. She was gone.
But my brother, he was a herds boy, and I was able to put him through school.
Eighty percent of the children I grew up with didn’t go to secondary school. Why was I so determined to get my education? I don’t know, but I remember my mother saying, ‘Edward, you are so small, I don’t see you being able to do labour work. You’d better stick to the pen.’”