Day 346: Having My Expectations Managed

By Lara Vogel,

As has already been discussed in earlier posts, the English education here is not quite up to American standards. While this does make for great entertainment, it also serves as a constant reminder to Claire and me of how much we want to do here. The fellow “wazungu” (white people) here before us have shared stories of alcoholic primary school teachers taking two-week binging breaks, textbooks split between three people, and over fifty kids to a class. Sadly, these facts were expected, though they become even more disheartening when you come face to face with how brilliant some of the kids suffering through these systems are. And I do mean brilliant.

But what I actually found more surprising than the horrific schools was the education in attitude and worldview these kids are receiving. I forget at times that these kids are usually struggling with a lot more than kids I have worked with before, and that the care they are provided needs to change accordingly. But nothing brings this point home like hearing two of their primary caregivers talk about managing the kids’ expectations.

The Children’s Center here is a testament to the power of optimism, faith, and effort. The (Very) Reverend Muindi (as he is addressed here) and all who have worked with him has accomplished truly inspiring and amazing things, hence our interest in working here. He is unbelievably proactive in improving this community, and encourages us to do absolutely anything we can think of to keep the kids as involved and happy as possible.

However, it is this paragon of the “can do it” attitude who told us today to limit our internet work to the high schoolers, as the primary school kids need to maintain a sense of belonging to their community that some internet skills could make them feel above somehow. He emphasized that they must learn how much of a struggle life is and how hard they must work for everything. And he wanted to be sure that they were not over-educated right out of this struggling greater community.

And he is not alone in this sentiment: at church last Sunday, the sermon for the week (given by the kids’ highly involved house manager, Eunice) emphasized that life is about struggle. To a church full of school children, she lectured at length about how when life seems too overwhelming and we feel unable to go on, we must remember God and trust him to carry us through the troubles. She explained that she understood that for many of the audience, life already felt like too much to bear, and she assured us that it was not.

I was shocked walking out of church, and reminded of this shock again when Rev. Muindi went on at length about the need for the children to work hard and always keep the struggle of life in their mind. It was not the ideas that surprised me; I have heard the same from all kinds of religious angles and every type of person. However, it was the belief that these 7 year old children needed constant reminders of life’s difficulty that stood out against the “if you dream it, you can do it” attitude I had hammered into my head as a youth alongside the resources to actually accomplish such a crazy thought.

But I came to realize that in these circumstances, such caution is responsible caregiving. Though Claire and I have been inspired by these conditions to help to improve them, this Children’s Center is the best some of these kids will ever be provided. After they leave, communities and support structures—both emotional and literal—will not come easily, and they need to know that what they have now is a gift that hundreds of children are literally dying for all around them.

It just seems so discouraging: these kids are energetic, hard working and bright. And I hate that it just comes down to the fact that the odds are against them and their chances to capitalize on these skills in all the ways I have been encouraged to. But then again, they have already survived so many odds to become the people I know them as today, so there’s hope they’ll all continue being the exception to every negative expectation. And that is the lecture in attitude that Claire and I need to keep hearing.

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