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As I said earlier, I arrived at Lewa at the end of the summer holiday. On September 3rd, a lot of the children had to make their way back to school.

The majority of the Lewa children go to the Kipkeino school. The school belongs to Lewa and is located just on the other side of the road. It is ranked one of the best schools in the entire country and many of its students come from the region’s elite.

The Kipkeino school

The Kipkeino school

It is a unique opportunity for the Lewa children to be able to study (tuition-free) in a competitive environment, to get the same quality education that children from privileged families receive. That said, they still face tough challenges.

Being an orphan carries a huge social stigma in Kenya. Who your parents are and where you come from are a big part of who you are. Children are often called “son of” or “daughter of.” That means orphans are missing that essential part of their identity.

And as in many other schools around the world, your economic background doesn’t go unnoticed either. Phyllis does what she can to level the playing field. But, in the end, she can only afford the essentials. No fancy shoes, no fashionable jeans, no accessories or jewelry.

So, when we walked the Lewa children to Kipkeino for the beginning of the new semester, and I saw them carrying their belongings in plastic bags, my heart sunk. The other students were taken to school by their parents. And they had all the accessories that give kids their age a social edge: a Hello Kitty toothbrush cup, a Nike sweater, a brassiere!

The Lewa students’ inventory was painstakingly short: the bare minimum, what was required by the school, nothing more. Nisha, Susan and I helped each of them to go through the list, made their beds and kissed them goodbye. Janice, a 10 year old in class 5, had sneaked in a Disney princesses puzzle that she must have taken from the Lewa play room. I don’t think she was allowed to take things from the play room, and really the game was more adapted for a 5-year old than for a girl her age. But when I saw the look on her face, holding this little pink box as if it were the only thing she had ever owned for herself, all I could say was: “This is so nice!” She was holding a small treasure.

I hope we can keep helping Phyllis so that she doesn’t have to worry every single day about how she’s going to feed her children or pay for their medical bills and that one day, Janice can have a Disney princess back pack, or a Hello Kitty toothbrush holder…

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