5 - Poems for the Little Ones

Project Kenya
Posted on Apr 27 2012
Blog >> Project Kenya


I’ll be hard-pressed to really find the right words to express our journeys to the local schools in Nyeri, but here goes it!

It’s Wednesday morning and we drive out into an anticipatory day. Kay “warns” me about some of the conditions I would encounter at these schools. (Every year, the schools seek progress. movement from unpainted buildings without water, feeding programs, bathrooms, and necessary space for enough classrooms, let alone staff rooms, to functional schools with tools and libraries). I ready myself for a week that has already guaranteed to reach inside, rattle my bones, and touch my heart.


The bumpy streets pave the way to our first destination: Milimani Primary School. We hop out of the van and immediately encounter morning greetings from a hundred or so different faces; an assembly-style line up on the front lawn where grass begs to grow and faculty members motion towards the small library. Ashley appears before the group of students and pulls out his book of poetry and artwork, and before we know it, his voice is ringing around the yard, “beautiful also are the souls of my people!” Students inch closer to this animated, intriguing man. Silent smiles, mixed feelings, eager ears, and hesitant responses are all juxtaposed against an unsettling image of rats gnawing at the food storage sacks in the corner of the run-down building for the small beginning students. Introductions, salutations, giggles, poetry sharing, dancing this dance of student-visitor interaction and suddenly, I find myself surrounded by a group of quiet but intelligent students gesticulating with me to the “I am a star” poem I’ve shared, occasionally picking one among them to share a poem of their own with me.  Then suddenly, we’re hustled into the van and onto the next school for the day. You have got to be kidding me, I’m thinking as Charity attempts for the third time to gather the six of us up and onto the van. Where is the time running off to?


We travel to two other primary schools in Nyeri on Wednesday- Kiboya (Ashley’s adopted school where he surprised the children with new uniforms, and they in turn shared an assortment of different performances right beneath the blazing sun) and Burguret, addressing large assemblies, and then speaking to individual grades and classes. For Thursday, we’ve planned to visit Muruguru (Kay Curtis’s adopted school), Nyeri Primary (somewhat tattered books in the library are positive signs of use, and testimony to the need for a new shipment), and finally a trip for me back to Mount Kenya Academy Primary to do a few class activities for the afternoon classes. I find an interesting balance between timidity and confidence, curiosity, and this impressive sense of respect for others that seems to breed the perfect equation for a lot of laughter and inevitably inspiring lessons and fun. The first morning at Milimani, I stood watching Ashley at work, and felt something speak through me right on spot; a poem I was encouraged to create and share right then, and carry around with me throughout the week. Thus, we left each primary school listening to a chorus of the memorized lines “I can shine, shine like a star”, and a promise from the students to practice it each week so it would stick and consequently aid them in reaching their goals.


There was a certain give and take I learned to balance between in interacting with the students. On one end, I had plenty to share with them concerning the importance of reading, writing, working hard to reach goals, etc. At the same time, I cannot stress how important it was for me to learn from them. In the schools, we did activities ranging from writing workshops, confidence boosters, reading sessions, poetry rounds, and had an absolutely amazing time. Through these, I was able to share in the culture, the social concerns, the aspirations of youth in this part of the country, what was important to them as young people, and a slew of other aspects of their lives. For me, much of this trip revolved around what was offered on a social level: students allowing us to enter their worlds and them being able to see and experience ours to a certain extent. The experience has really made me consider the academic approach to the question of education in different parts of the world- I constantly was bombarded with the question of how this education system compared to those in the states. On a practical level, we were forced to examine how the vibrant energy in a school where the students were being fed was completely different from that in a school where the students did not have a feeding program. Furthermore, I found myself questioning what did education mean for many of these students? Was it, as a Swedish man confronted me on the trip, a waste of time for some of the students who would inevitably follow their parents into the coffee plant fields? What did this idea of “education” we shared do for them? It really allowed me to consider the power of creativity/poetry as a method of broadening the mind, making education something more than what happens in the classroom, something they could live by, regardless of where life takes them. My unique role as an author gave me leeway and leverage to really explore these questions.


So again, stay tuned! The journey continues. In the meantime, here is a taste of the energy that’s flowing around here.


Poem for the Little One

How do I

Undress my fears

How do I

Throw away the doubts

That taunt me for my diligence

Is it wrong to believe

That I AM capable

Of great things

Am I willing

To be different

To be a leader

Even when the world

Seems like it is not on my side

I will always feel alive

And vibrant inside

Because I know that persistence

And an open mind

Will take me there

And there is where I want to be

So watch out for me

As I begin to blossom

Touching stars

Between your horizons

I was not kidding

When I licked my fingers

And dug my hands in again

This world is my haven

And I will show you

How my love and my talents

Can uplift it

Me, the light

That will burn no matter how many winds blow

Here I am

Doing my best

And being me

And because of this

Even through my tumbles

And through my mistakes

I cannot and will not fail.