Wednesday, June 8, 2016

St. Mary's School for Boys - PICTURES UPDATED!

This past weekend we passed our time in Nyeri, a town about three hours outside of Nairobi, where I spent nearly all of my time in Kenya last year.  We decided to do a weekend at St. Mary's School for Boys so that the students could see real life examples of the human rights issues, women and youth issues, and poverty that we had been talking and learning about during our time in Nairobi.  I'm glad that this time fell on a weekend because the boys were free from classes for the most part giving the students time to casually meet and chat with them.

As I mentioned in my last post, we arrived to Nyeri relatively late in the evening, about 6:30 and it was close to getting dark.  We went straight to the school, had the chance to meet up with the La Salle students who are here now doing their service trip as well, and eat dinner before heading back to our hotel.  We stayed at the Ibis Hotel in downtown Nyeri.  It's no Hilton and sure I had to climb over my bag and a chair to get to my bed, but the rooms are pretty typical of hotel rooms here and we have hot water, so no complaints here!

A standard double room.  Cramped, but it did the trick!
On Saturday we walked over to the boys school mid-morning and got a tour from the social worker, Harrison.  We hung out in the Brother's residence until after we had eaten and the boys had eaten.  Then we walked over to the recreational areas of campus and the group split up to socialize with the boys.  This was particularly nice for me because I didn't do a ton of socializing last year, at least not with the boys.  I was trying hard last year to make sure the students were getting as much of the experience as they could get, so I often hung back and observed or spent time with Habiba and Stephen in the kitchen.

This time I went straight for the basketball courts and sat down on a bench to watch the current pick up game.  Immediately, boys began to come over and sit next to me.  They wanted to know my name and where I was from and a few asked if I knew some of the students that I had traveled with last year because they still remember them.  I am always impressed by the questions the boys ask and their attentiveness and genuine desire to learn and also the stark difference between the juniors and the high school students.

If you remember from last year, St. Mary's has several programs for boys.  Their high school is one of the top performing high schools in the country and most students pay tuition to attend.  This is a main source of funding for the school.  Then there are the juniors, these are boys whose families are no longer alive or are unable to provide for them.  About 120 of them live at the school and attend primary school at one of the local public schools.  Another 180 come to the school for meals and get tuition to pay for their schooling, but go home to sleep each night.  The nursery program is for newly arrived street boys who lack the basic skills to attend primary school yet.  They may be learning hygiene, language, or other basic skills and can range in age from 5-10.  The last program is the polytechnic program, which provides trade skills to juniors that are not able to academically continue on to high school.

So, back to my point, there is a CLEAR delineation between the boy who are juniors and the boys who attend the high school.  Specifically with their hygiene and spoken English.  It is obvious who belongs in which program and I often wonder if this silent segregation has an impact on the boys perceptions of their own self-worth, especially the ones who can't pass the primary school exam and move on to high school.

After the basketball courts, I moved over to the volleyball courts where one of my students was playing with some of the boys.  I had a lively conversation with several of the high school boys until my student finished her volleyball game.  We then walked across campus to the soccer field and it was so wonderful to see one student walking around with a few boys, another up on a hill having an in-depth discussion, and the other faculty member taking photos and sharing her camera with a student who has aspirations of becoming a journalist.  We ended up meeting up with two high school boys and sitting in the middle of the field.  A few other boys came over and joined us and we sat there and talked for nearly two hours before they had to leave for study hall.

Olivia serving up the volleyball in a game with students

Olivia learning how to tie a tie the way the boys are required for their uniforms.   It's tricky!

Aisha teaching lessons on the hillside
We went back to the Brother's residence for tea and then several of my students got the chance to milk cows.  After dinner with the La Salle students we stuck around for the Saturday night social.  On Saturdays at 7:30 the boys gather in the main hall for an hour of dancing before settling down to watch a movie.  I remembered from last year that the dancing is a site to see, so I encouraged the group to stick around for it.  Well worth it.

Rae and Judy getting to know one another

An unfortunate meeting between Tiffany and cow poop splatter
On Sunday we got to sleep in and walked over to the school around noon.  One of my students was able to visit a mosque as Ramadan was set to begin in the evening with Habiba, who works at the school and is Muslim herself.  She came back with lots of pictures and stories and said it was a really emotional, beautiful experience not only to attend a mosque, but to do it in Africa during such a special time of the year.

Sundays are free days for the boys and they are allowed to go into town, so most of us walked around town with different sets of boys and it was round two of question after question, but they ask such great, pointed questions that it's so worth the time spent.  Many questions this year revolved around race in America and Trump as presidential candidate.  I'm shocked at how much news coverage I see here on our presidential race.  One funny moment was when a student said to me, "This might be too personal, but I'm wondering if you would ever consider marrying an African man."  When I said not only would I, but in fact was already married to one he nearly fell out in the middle of the street.  We ended up having a really interesting conversation about living in a bi-cultural household and raising a child in that environment.  I'm telling you, these kids are deep.

Downtown Nyeri on Sunday

When we got back to campus we took a drive out to a hillside waterfall that I had been to last year.  I was so proud of myself for remembering the way!  A few hiked down to the river for a better view, but most of us weren't wearing shoes appropriate for hiking down a random hill.  We returned for dinner with the La Salle students one more time and then headed back to the hotel to pack and prepare to head off for our next destination, Naro Moru River Lodge, a well-deserved few days of down time at a luxury mountain side resort.  Hike on Mt. Kenya from the next post!

Ready to get on the road!

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