This post was written by our ICRI Africa Program Director, Leonard Chumo Falex.
It was pomp and flair at Sharon Daycare Centre situated in the Kiambio slums of Nairobi, which is home to over 100,000 people. Today 8 children graduated from pre-school to join primary school after a great time of growth and development. With the help of ICRI Africa and ICRI HQ, over 60 children get a quality education, at least one meal a day and medical check up and prescription once every month. Thanks to our Hearts Leap Schools’ children and their parents in California, their staff, ICRI Leadership, our friends and partners for the continued support to our mission for children and families.
One of those graduating is Valentine Kanaga. For Valentine, Sharon Daycare Centre has not just been a school; it has been a home where she found love, care and warmth. At one point she was threatened by a condition-an umbilical hernia that threatened to sideline her from growing to be all she was created to be. Then International Child Resource Institute, through our sister schools in California, lent a helping hand by mobilizing funds that would later see Valentine undergo an operation at the Gertrude Children Hospital in Nairobi, a cost her family would otherwise not be able to afford. Today she is full of smiles as she walks down the aisle with her mother to receive her certificate of completion of our ECD Program. One would have to be in this neighborhood to understand the magnitude of celebration when a child marks this first success in life. Ululation and dance followed by a feast for all is a seal of a great beginning for children here.
In the recent past Kenya has been known for its ethnic divisions, corruption, spiraling youth unemployment rates and high levels of poverty, but today, through education, these statistics and differences cannot divide a nation whose hopes and future is in the hands of these children. From the least of these places will soon be instruments of global change. There are almost 20 different ethnic groups in this field during graduation but it doesn’t matter anymore. The power of children is at play. From one song to another you will appreciate the beauty of diversity in the nation of Kenya. And education is that common ground that will bring about peaceful coexistence. These young children will not accept to be divided because of where they were born or what tribe they came from. All they see is a brighter tomorrow. They will help their parent’s access medication; they will build better houses for their mothers and grandmothers languishing in poverty in between these back-to-back mud houses. Crime will have no more hideouts in the burgeoning slums of Nairobi. A new breed of transformative, forward thinking leaders will form.
In attendance too is the Municipal Education Officer, just to underscore the weight of this celebration. Today almost everything came to a standstill to pave way for jubilation. The students may be young but they move the community!
As I hand Valentine her certificate, I am lost in the noise of the celebration by hundreds gathered here. It is true that it takes a village to raise a child. They have all gathered, with or without children, to witness a new dawn. It is the hope of the village. The light at the end of the tunnel of poverty, disease and illiteracy.
Above us are Kenya Army helicopters from a nearby Eastleigh Air Base flying over us to quell violence in the northern part of Kenya where 28 have just been massacred, a 1000km north near Somali. They don’t say but it is written in their faces. No more shall we watch another one of our country men die. If we don’t stop it, these children will. They know the unacceptable cost of silence to the society. They will speak.
I can’t help but to be grateful that I have been part of Valentine’s life in a small way. This girl has unstoppable dream hidden in her never ceasing smile. This smile has become her identity since the days she breathed in pain from her umbilical hernia. Myriads of questions go unanswered in my mind. How many like her are out there? How could our country and continent be if we invested in just a thousand like her? Who will follow up with her story in years to come? Maybe I will be too old to recognize her or may be I will be too far away to read her in the newspapers or watch her as she makes news. One thing I am persuaded beyond doubt is that she will succeed and will serve her community!
Yet this is a story of just one of thousands and millions of young children in Kenya and Africa today whose voices cry out for a chance in life. Shall we pretend we never heard them? Is it true we never saw them? Shall we say we can’t do anything about it? Should we underwrite their dreams?
Kanaga’s story represents the hope of our concerted efforts across continents to provide the much needed medical, educational, nutritional and safety help to the most vulnerable in society. Today many children die voiceless in the wake of Ebola in West Africa and others are witnessing in horror as their neighbors and teachers die from terrorism in Northern Kenya and even many abducted daily by Boko Haram of Nigeria. Surely we can do something to give a chance to the children who do not deserve to pay the price of our ethnic animosity, religious recklessness and selfish political ambitions.
We can support teachers around the world like Sharon Owino at Kiambio who have completely dedicated themselves to the service of young children. We can sacrifice a dollar to rescue a homeless child and the fear of abuse and exploitation. We can say no to terrorism to make the world a better place for our children. We congregate to construct a classroom for our children leaning under the trees in Samburu Kenya in scourging heat of the sun and without water. We only need to hear the whisper of the young child calling for help!
ICRI Africa may be a drop in the ocean yet we will do that one thing that only we can do. You do yours and tomorrow we can look back and share with millions of children like Valentine pursuing their dreams in life regardless of where and to whom they were born to.