Tag Archives: Kenya

We Need An Education System Overhaul In Kenya – Part 1

I cannot remember a lot from my primary school Science and Agriculture class. One of the few things that I remember from Arts and Craft class is dovetail joints. The only reason I remember this is because it was the answer to a question on a quiz that I failed. It was also the first time that I was beaten by a teacher using a bamboo stick for getting an answer wrong. You can imagine the shock horror of being beaten during your first week in boarding school. Nothing stings like a bamboo stick, I can tell you that for sure. I did well in the two subjects in the final exams though. All hail the power of cramming.

Fast forward to high school where we had some mandatory subjects and others that we could choose. Now, in my high school the choice was between Art and Home Science. There was no way I was going to choose Art. I barely got the Craft portion of it right in primary and Lord knows I can’t draw to save my life. Home Science was the safer option and I was glad to ditch it after the first two years of high school. I forged on with Biology, Geography, German, History and the mandatory Chemistry, English, Math and Kiswahili. Of the 8 subjects, I was only genuinely interested in 4.5. I don’t particularly consider myself a science-oriented individual so balancing chemical equations was pure frustration. I loved the human part of Geography. As for the physical bit -let’s just say I can only name less than a handful of rocks. We all know the parts of Biology that were cool, everything else just made time move slower. Working with numbers is always fun, until they start throwing the alphabet in there and it all goes left. Passing the exam in some of the subjects was again due to the sheer power of cramming.

Cramming was a key strategy to doing well on exams. Understanding the content didn’t necessarily matter as long as you could regurgitate the information when tested. That’s how a lot of us ended up not retaining the things we learnt. It certainly didn’t help that there was more emphasis on excelling tests than there was on acquiring knowledge. As a result, students ended up being pushed through the system so that they could get to the next stage and become another educator’s concern. This continued singular focus on passing exams is not beneficial especially to students. The problem with this structure is that those who do not get certain marks or grades in the national exam at every level of the education system end up being written off. If you don’t get at least X marks at the primary level national exams then you can’t get into high school. If you don’t get a certain grade or above at the secondary level national exams then you can’t get into public university as a regular student.

Another issue is that the opportunities for students to discover their innate talents and explore their interests are not maximized. A student is in class from around 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., moving from one subject to the next with short breaks every few hours. After that, one is focused on doing homework and preparing for continuous assessment tests and exams – whether that entails actually studying or cramming. Getting good grades is emphasized as the main goal – the be-all and end-all of one’s academic experience. Pursuing one’s other interests is not even presented as an option. As a result, you end up feeling like a failure every time you don’t pass an exam. You start thinking that you are not intelligent and will probably not succeed in life.

Thanks to social media, I see classmates, who stood next to me as we were being caned for getting some question or other wrong on a GHC test in primary school, all prospering in unconventional ways. One of them, for example, paints beautiful pieces of art that make you want to reach into your screen and grab one to hang in your house. Another one is a blossoming entrepreneur. There is one who is a musician and a guitar instructor. The same applies to my high school classmates. Those remedial sessions on Sunday had us believing that we were doomed for not acing Chemistry or Geography or whichever subject we were not excelling in. Turns out getting a question wrong on a test or “failing” Biology is not the end of the world.

The primary and high school academic experience really should include the space for students to explore their other capabilities. Instead of packing every single minute with subjects that do not play up to everyone’s strengths and natural inclinations. It is unfortunate that this cram and pass education structure continues even today when Kenya is awash with proof that one can follow unconventional paths and be successful. I am in no way implying that education is not important because it is. I am simply advocating for a switch to a wholesome multidimensional academic experience.

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For the love of God, STOP: On stereotypes, the church and Africa

It is too early in the year for the type of ignorance being peddled about Africa by some church affiliated folk in the name of missionary work. In this era of Google and social media, why do people insist on clinging to that false image of Africa? You know, the country ravaged by disease, poverty and war where people live in anything but buildings? In a time when information is literally at people’s fingertips, is it that difficult for one to educate themselves about African countries? Sure, you don’t have to know everything about all 54 of them but knowing that Africa is NOT a country is a solid first step. It’s not a hard concept to grasp guys.

I came across an article titled “First Presbyterian Church recreates rural African town.” The church, which is in Gainsville, Georgia, was scheduled to have a “Life in an African Village,” event this past weekend. According to the article, the event was geared towards teaching children in the area about daily life in a foreign country and missionary work. Because life is the same in each and every village across the continent…ha! The children would “build makeshift huts, listen to African drumming and sing African tunes…” How would they build the huts, you ask? Well, when I initially read the article, there were pictures of cardboard boxes open on the side with hay on top. I think that is how they were planning on doing it. The pictures have since been taken down. I wonder if it’s because they finally did some research and realized that that is not how huts look. Or maybe not. A girl can hope.

If that’s how they think huts look, you can only imagine what they told the children about living in a village. Only heaven knows what they said about the African culture that people love to define in ways that align with their personal interests. The guest speaker and performer at the event was a Zambian man who was also in attendance at the same event last year. Ala! Didn’t this depiction of Africa bother him!? Or did he say something about it last year and the organizers just didn’t listen? But then again, there is always that one African patting these we-will-misrepresent-Africa-because-we-have-decided-that-our-version-of-Africa-is-more-accurate-than-reality types on the back.

Then there is an American woman who went to Kenya on a mission trip and didn’t fall in love with the country. Why? Because she didn’t see poverty nor encounter people who don’t speak English, as she had expected. Yes, this happened, as written on her blog. Her entire post is condescending and made me question the motives of her mission trip. I guess we now know what happens when savior complex and superiority complex thrive in an individual.

The woman’s post will make you believe that people go on mission trips to delight in seeing poverty and feel good about waving their invisible alleviate-the-suffering-of-the-locals magic wand.  Seriously, how else can you explain this excerpt from her blog post?
My heart was prepared for dirt floors.
For dirty laundry hanging everywhere.
For kids that were half naked and covered in bug bites.
People who couldn’t speak English.

not this.

Eh!? You would think that when someone plans to go on a trip to a country they have never been to before they would do research on said country. Isn’t that just the common sense thing to do? Clearly she couldn’t be bothered with all that. She had created this image of Kenya in her mind and that is much more important than the reality on the ground.

Who gets discouraged by not seeing poverty!? Shouldn’t that, I don’t know, ENCOURAGE  you!? Shouldn’t it make you realize that the images you see in movies and commercials are completely distorted to push a certain agenda? Shouldn’t it make you want to change that and present accurate images of the country? That could become your mission, no?

It seems that this lady was so set on jetting in, tiling the dirt floors, washing the dirty laundry, clothing the half naked kids, putting balm on their bug bites and of course teaching Kenyans English.  While we are at it, why would dirty laundry be hanging anywhere? Because cleanliness is only reserved for wealthy folk and those from the West or? Oh, where would we be without her blessed heart and those of others like her?

Why spend all the time, money and effort to go to a country if you are hell-bent on forcing it to fulfill your stereotypes? How much good can you do for people if you are struggling to accept the fact that their circumstances are not as you expected? Is it not possible to spread His message where dirt floors and half naked children are not involved?

That blog post is both ridiculous and disturbing. This had been said before and evidently, we need to keep saying it. Kenya, and Africa as a whole, doesn’t need to be saved. What we need is non predatory partnerships, among others, to fuel our socio-economic growth and political development.

So, if you are going to teach children about mission work and Africa, please present the continent accurately. It’s the least you can do given all the resources available at your fingertips. Perpetrating stereotypes is lazy and a disservice to all involved. Avoid the reenactments too. There are plenty of pictures of huts online…no need for hay and cardboard box tricks. If you are going on a mission trip, research on the country you are going to. Leave your ignorance, prejudice and pre-determined uninformed solutions at your house. Interact with people, find out what their community needs and how you can be of help.

Highlights 2014 (Celebrating Kenyan Women)

(This list is not in any particular order and neither is it exhaustive…just 10 (-ish) moments that came to mind today)

1. Lupita Nyong’o’s Best Supporting Actress Oscar win…
Lupita Nyong'o Win

…and her acceptance speech…

…and her recent speech at the Massachusetts Conference for Women…

…and the numerous times she owned the red carpet, the pavement, the airport entrance/exit and social media.

2. Okwiri Oduor’s Caine Prize for African Writing for her short story “My Father’s Head,” and her interview with Arise News.

Okwiri Oduor has also written a novella “The Dream Chasers,” that was highly commended by the Commonwealth Book Prize in 2012. She is currently working on her debut novel…I’m over here waiting for it with a cup of chai masala!

Side note: Two other Kenyans have won the Caine Prize. Binyavanga Wainaina in 2002 for “Discovering Home,” and Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor in 2003 for “Weight of Whispers.” Oh, book recommendations alert -> Binyavanga Wainaina’s One Day I Will Write About This Place and Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor’s Dust.

3.

my dress my choice

#MyDressMyChoice was started as a response to the stripping of women in the name of “decency.” Active and passive perpetrators of this form of violence against women claimed that stripping women teaches us not to be “indecent” and to dress “respectfully” while upholding our “African values.” Seriously!? How much stupidity does one’s brain have to be cloaked in in order to even think like this!? Please, we all know violence against women is about power, control and intimidation, among others. Enough is enough. It’s time to put an end to violence against women.  Salute to all the women who organized and participated in the protest against these heinous acts.

4. Diana Opoti celebrating 100 Days of African Fashion was amazing. She showed all of us just how fabulous African fashion is and the phenomenal level of talent designers across the continent have.
Follow her on Instagram @dianaopoti for pictures of her different outfits as well as designer details, you know, in case you decide to rock out 2015 in statement-making African fashion.

Side note: This was my favorite outfit, not that anyone asked…ha!

5. Captain Irene Koki Mutungi became the first African woman Dreamliner Captain. She was also the first female pilot at Kenya Airways. Inspiration is her, for sure.

Irene-Koki-Mutungi

6. This picture of an all-women Kenya Airways flight crew. Definitely using Kenya Airways next time. Well, if I am guaranteed that I will be on their flight…ha ha ha ha #disclaimer.

crew

7. Tegla Loroupe wins the 2014 Billie Jean King Contribution Award. Like many, I heard the name Tegla Loroupe before I fully grasped exactly what running a marathon and breaking records entails. She is not only a marathon legend but also an advocate for peace, women’s rights and education. Not to keep all her winnings to herself, she started the Tegla Loroupe Peace Foundation.

8. Evelyn Watta won the Sport Reporting Award in the 2014 CNN Multichoice African Journalist Awards. She won for her story “Inside Senegal’s Mythical Wrestling Heritage.” Hmmm…to think that there are people out there who are constantly coming up with ways to pigeonhole women. Meanwhile women are out here broadening your world with their words and award-winning stories.

9. The Wangari Maathai Peace Park is now under construction! Yes, it will be open to the public and according to the Green Belt Movement, they hope to have a library in it one day. I hope this is the start of many more parks with libraries throughout the country.
Also, I love the Google doodle of Wangari Maathai, below. It’s from 2013 but it’s timelessness landed it here.

wangari maathai

10. All the Kenyan warrior women who are constantly fighting/advocating for our rights. You are the reason we will have a better Kenya for women. You are an inspiration to many of us. You are everything and then some!

THE BIBLE SAYS

Many a false prophets have used the phrase “the Bible says…” in order to promote their personal will and deceive the masses. Such prophets are now using “the Bible says…” to amass personal wealth by extracting money from members of their congregation.

Recently, KTN Kenya aired an investigative piece titled “Prayer Predators” (English version)/ “Makri ya Injili” (Swahili version). It looks at one Victor Kanyari who purports to be not just a preacher but a prophet and a doctor. The piece shows how he manipulates his congregants and others members of the public into bankrolling his “ministry.” He gives sermons but his walk is evidently kilometers away from the Bible he quotes so often. He says that God has given him a message about person ABC who is suffering from disease DEF and character GHI who has issue JKL. It turns out he has staff members who source these stories from unsuspecting congregants. The stories are then written in a book that Kanyari references while preaching. He claims to be able to cure cancer and HIV, among others. In reality, his staff members give false testimony that they had diseases that were cured due to Kanyari’s prayers and the financial seed that they planted.

What Kanyari does is disturbing and shocking. He preys on people who are struggling to make ends meet, searching for hope to cling to, desperately trying to find a cure, and in some cases looking for a way out of their current situations. He does it with such brazen confidence too, like that’s the price people have to pay for his existence on this earth.

Kanyari isn’t the only one. There are many others like him who have and continue to capitalize on religion. It’s not just in Kenya either, we see it happening all over Africa. These so-called prophets and preachers are trading “miracles and prayers” for money. If you want to pray for a person, just pray for them. Why do they have to part with money for that to happen!? The same applies in the case of miracles.

These crop of preachers constantly take from worshipers, and when there is no more left to take they bang on the pulpit, evoke “the Bible says…,” and ask people to dig deeper into their pockets. Obviously they are the only ones who know what to do with the congregants’ money. Obviously they are the only ones who need it. Obviously these preachers are the only ones who need to buy luxurious cars and live in mansions. Obviously they are the only ones who should be seduced by, and protected from the elements of nature by wearing custom-made outfits. Obviously they are the only ones that deserve to be able to afford to be pampered in spas and beauty parlors. Obviously they are the only ones who should be able to pay for their children’s education. They are, after all, (wo)men of God. Why should anyone else be able to do such things!? Why!? Especially when you don’t sacrifice your time to master the Bible and share it’s teachings with the rest of the masses. Why should the rest of society get a slice of the good life!?

Such preachers keep prospering though, and they are not shy about letting the public know just how many ways they have been “blessed.” It doesn’t seem to matter to them that worshipers in their churches continue to struggle physically, emotionally, mentally and financially.

Unfortunately, a number of the faithful members of such preachers’ churches don’t have the opportunity to watch or read the investigative pieces that expose the shenanigans of their leaders. There are also those who suspect something is amiss but are afraid to speak out against the (wo)men of God because “the Bible says…”  It doesn’t help that there are really no life-changing consequences for such preachers’ actions. Sure, there is the public shaming and ridicule, and meme-sharing on social media, but after that people move on and eventually forget.

The worst thing that happens to such preachers is that they become the running joke and their names are turned into verbs. The best case scenario is people writing pieces about business lessons that can be learnt from these strain of preachers. Yeah, the people who faithfully give their hard-earned money every month to these preachers are really curious about business lessons they can learn. Sick people who give financially in the hopes of being cured would really love to know more about these business lessons. The people who are groped, and asked for a small donation in the name of healing  would really appreciate your insight on the business lessons they can learn. Seriously, turning lemons into passion juice is good and all, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves here. If you look hard enough, you will find business lessons from a seasoned car thief too. How long will we continue to applaud and reward such behavior either overtly or covertly?

There has to be an effective way to stop these predatory preachers. Does anybody know of one!? Maybe throw the same “the Bible says…” quotes at them when they ask for a small donation in exchange for a prayer or miracle. The Bible does have a lot to say about money, healing, false prophets and deceit, after all.

MAMA’S WORDS – THE FEAR IN ME

By TED

As a kid my mother always told me, “Just continue playing with me and the next thing you know you’ll be feeding on tripe and ground maize meal for breakfast in Migori”. I always thought this was her way of keeping me in check (it did work) because I had truant tendencies. She taught me to always evaluate my answers before responding. Looking back now, I look at the threats and they seem to have rubbed off on me to date.

In my mid-early twenties (it exists), my friends find it awkward that I can’t swim and have no interest whatsoever in learning how to defy God and move in matter that wasn’t designed for me. Don’t get me wrong. Swimming is cool and if I could flap my feet in water my mother would probably be grandma by now. So two weeks ago I had an experience that made me re-evaluate my stand on large and semi-large water bodies (tubs included). Up until last week the reason I gave for not being able to swim was seeing my friend almost drown while in primary school. Well, it is a partial reason but I couldn’t swim even then.

The last straw before I was shipped off to boarding school at the tender age of 9 involved swimming. I lived in an area where friends weren’t a common scene, so when I found friends, I was going to ride or die with my homies. My new friend, Moses, was a light skin boy with a face you’d think was stung by bees. He was light for days and had a really chubby face. He cried a lot in every confrontation and would turn pink thus the bee analogy.

The biggest thing at the time was rabbit rearing and if I kept on going right now I’d be a millionaire or a plenty- thousandnaire. We’d sell our rabbits for double the price we bought them and my mum thought this was the best way to keep me out of drugs (truancy) and teach me about the value of money. For the better part of our trade, I got to understand that money earned must be spent.

During one of our rabbit sales, we had to deliver the furry beasts to an individual that lived near a man-made dam. As juvenile delinquents (I was the Tupac of kids), we decided to dip our feet in the water just to get a feel. In no time, things escalated and we were in the water splashing around like rabid dogs. For the first time in my life I felt one with water. That evening I got home, ashy as macadamia nuts and eyes bloodshot. My mum, thought this was all part of my running around and dust allergy so she didn’t pay much attention to it.

Every time I took a dip in that murky water I felt at one with nature as much as I could feel the weeds frolicking my bottom. I was the king of the self-generated waves and I loved it. I’d always find a reason for being late and my mum probably knew I was fooling around but she couldn’t put her finger around it. These escapades went on for around two months before ego took it all to the wretched ground it came from.

My neighbour’s kid (The loudest hungry kid you’ll ever meet) one day asked if he could accompany us to our liquid state. He was probably four years younger than us so that was out of the question. A taboo of sorts. What did he know about diving in water with nothing but your skin to cushion your splash? Apparently plenty since his school had an actual pool. In my denying him, I didn’t put into account of how he knew we were non-youtube trained swimmers.

So on this day I get home jovial as ever. My neighbour said hi, something she only did when she’d snitched on me. I knew I was in trouble when I could smell fries but I couldn’t see them. My mum didn’t even smile when she saw me (What happened to unconditional love?). I made my way to the bathroom and all through the shower I could feel the belt land on my back. I cried myself to the point of coiling my body at one end of the bathroom.

True to my instinct, she knew about my Olympic training classes. I played it cool and this time, the belt was nowhere in sight. “I can smell chips mum, have you brought me one?” Before I could be directed, I had a conversation in my head on how this was going to play out. I was brought back to earth with these words, “If I ever find you in that water, you won’t be coming back to Nairobi! I’ve packed your things. You’re going to Migori tomorrow.” I thought I’d beat her by crying in the shower but my nasal passage had other ideas. I dry cried myself to the kitchen and sobbed through my fries and sausage.

After spending the week with my grandma, which was surprisingly better than I thought, I made my return to the city. I was sent to boarding school immediately after. For all I can remember, that was the last time I voluntarily immersed over one-third of my body in anything other than a shower. From that one week, I learnt two things. Never respond without thinking of the consequences and swimming isn’t cool.

So on my behalf of my mother I’d like to apologize to every girl that invited me for swimming and the most I did was stare. I’m sorry to any girl that thought sharing a bath tub was romantic and I turned down that chance, I’m reforming. I can do half a tub now. And to my future kids, I’m sorry but you aren’t swimming under my watch and if you go tell your grandma, you won’t even play in the rain. To my mother, thank you for preparing me on Tsunami avoiding tactics.