Between January 23 and March 25 2016, three Kenyan boys from one of our sister schools in Kenya, Tigithi Secondary arrived in Canada to visit their sister schools and work as PA-MOJA ambassadors from Kenya. Over the course of the last few months, their lives have been a whirlwind of adventure as they juggle schoolwork, social commitments and fun. They were all admitted to the Langley Fine Arts School (LFAS) after the school district graciously waived the fees for them. They are all in various classes and participate in a smorgasbord of activities ranging from arts courses, including, drama, photography and music classes, as well as academic courses such as physics, English, geography and psychology.
One thing they cannot have anticipated is how popular they would be among the kids at the school and other schools they visit. Every time they walk down a corridor, there are dozens of kids, especially the junior grades, waiting to say their name, high five them and ask multiple questions. It is unlikely any of the young kids will ever forget the boys. Their presence in the school has provided many of the kids with their first real insight into what Africa is like and it is a radical departure from the single story too many people have learned.
Because the boys visit all the classes and talk about Kenyan culture, many of the Canadian students no longer only perceive Africa as a continent of poverty, disease, child soldiers and hundreds of other negative stereotypes perpetuated by the media. Through the boys, they see Africa as a complex place where people have ambitions, challenges, talent and other universal attributes – a place with people just like them. A sizable part of what PA-MOJA and the Ol Pejeta Conservancy do is to facilitate cultural exchanges allowing kids in Kenya and Canada to share and experience the diverse culture of each country.
As a result stereotypes are broken down and each side gets to have a more realistic view of the other. When the Kenyan boys return to Kenya, they will have better communication and leadership skills.The boys have had opportunities to study in Canadian classrooms and engage with the teachers in many other ways. They have discovered a new mode of learning where exploration is central. This is in contrast with the exam-oriented system they are used to back home.
However, they have the best of both worlds now, and they can share and compare. This way, both they and their Canadian classmates get to learn from the imperfections of each system. In the time they have been here, each of the boys has come into their own, and has had a chance to rediscover and pursue their passion. James, with his flair for the sciences, is thriving in the art school and learning to connect the two. He has had several experiences to work on Butterfly Effect projects on a more practical level than he would have had back home. He is also his fellow Butterfly Effect classmate, Flora Xia, with her ambitious year long Hive Mind project and his knowledge of science and engineering is proving instrumental.
Victor has been attending music classes at LFAS and has discovered new melodies within himself. Whenever he stands to sing the Kenyan national anthem, or any other song, rooms fall silent and not a few eyes water. He is also connecting with Cynthia Weldon, a Vice-Principal at Johnston Heights Secondary School, to further his Butterfly Effect inquiry on gender stereotyping.
George, the newest arrival, has established himself as a competent amateur chef and in his three weeks here has managed to demonstrate Kenyan cuisine by cooking for his homestay family as well as experiment with several Canadian menus. Cynthia Weldon, who is also James’s homestay mum organised for him to visit Queen Elizabeth Culinary clas school where he had a wonderful experience sharing and learning with Chef Renee and students. He is also volunteering at the Blacksmith Bakery in Fort Langley after Penny Carnrite, a teacher at LFAS, introduced him to Chef Stefan, the owner. His Butterfly Effect project is aimed at creating a menu that combines Kenyan and Canadian cuisine.
In their role as ambassadors, the boys are going out to PA-MOJA sister schools in the Vancouver area and talking to people who are involved with our organization. It is one thing to fundraise to promote bursary kids in Kenya, and it is an entirely different thing when you interact with some of the beneficiaries on a one to one basis. Their presence here has been a powerful message and it has helped provide a keener insight into PA-MOJA’s goals, ambitions and working model. In their interactions with Canadians, the boys have been correcting the common misconception that charity is a necessary part of interactions with Africa. Many Kenyans are without a doubt in need of assistance; however, this is more useful in the form of an opportunity as opposed to the traditional donation of consumables from the West.
At PA-MOJA we believe educating a child by paying their school fees or funding classroom construction is one of the best things you can do for long term impact on people. Donors provide students with an opportunity to better their lives and ultimately their family’s. In the end, donors are creating a society of independent problem solvers as opposed to playing into the vicious cycle of poverty that will never be unraveled from outside. Kenyans will ultimately have to figure out the challenges that face their country and with education, they will become the drivers of this change and can break the cycle.
While the boys are here, they will have several chances to meet with our stakeholders and potential supporters and talk to them about what PA-MOJA does in Kenya. We hope to convince more people to join us in our quest to educate more Kenyan kids and in the future bring more of Kenyan students to North America to share their first hand experiences.
To find out more about the boys, visit their blog posts where they have been writing about their Canadian experiences. James, Victor, George If you are interested in supporting PA-MOJA or linking to a sister school in Kenya or Canada, please contact Alison Stuart at email@example.com.