We were invited out to the Maragima Primary School less than a kilometer from Graceland, where some of Graceland’s finest students once studied, including Zipporah and Catherine whom we have been following during our stay. The school itself was in disrepair and desperately in need of basic renovations, such as cement on the floor in the classrooms and a fix to their leaking water tank where students gleefully filled their drinking containers throughout the morning. Three students shared one book. Some were wearing torn or threadbare uniforms and some were without shoes.
The teachers took tea around a small shed that acted as a makeshift kitchen. It consisted of a pot on the ground full of dishes and a small fire. Despite the grinding poverty, the kids were eager to learn and pushed their way in front of the camera for a glimpse at the lens and perhaps their own reflection. We were their first American visitors and they rewarded us with song, poetry and dance performances.
Back at Graceland, the girls are teaching us Swahili and we are able to communicate the basic greetings and formalities. It has been a gift to learn from them. The nights have been cold here, but the sun reminds us of the season back home. A coal fire warmed us on the coldest nights and of course, the warm hospitality of everyone here always ensures our spirits are kept high.
My colleague Marcie has been teaching the students about American government, which the girls have been most appreciative of. Today, I filmed a class lecture today by teacher Hellen that centered on the new Constitution in Kenya, which borrows a lot from the U.S. Constitution. It was incredibly interesting to hear how the teacher explained the pros and cons of a written constitution, such as having a written reference of the rights promised you by the government (pro) and the difficulty with interpretation for instance when it comes to abortion and gay marriage (con). It was wonderful to see the positive changes happening in Kenya and witnessing the progression in the classroom environment. I also interviewed Hellen yesterday to get her insight on girls’ education in Kenya and the cultural pressures and lack of knowledge that still keeps the country from bridging the gap between educational access for boys and girls.
I have been working with the girls four times a week on their photography and they soon head into exams as the term comes to an end. They are getting over the initial excitement of the technology and their images are shifting from silly poses with friends, to more of nature and their environment. This Saturday, we are planning a fieldtrip to a nearby quarry, which I hope will inspire them even further in their creative work.
An alumnus of Graceland is coming this weekend to visit her alma mater and to sit with me for an interview on how her education has impacted her life. We also plan on visiting the home of sisters Zipporah and Catherine to learn more about the backgrounds these Graceland Girls hail from. I have already given then a Sony Bloggie video camera to record their own musings and to interview each other in the comfort of their own bunks and eagerly look forward to viewing the footage and sharing it with others.
Our internet access has been extremely limited, but we have only one more week to spend with the girls at Graceland and we have jam-packed our schedules with interviews, field trips and a trip to Mount Kenya. We then head to Maasai Mara for time on Safari with some American friends. It has been a learning experience for all here in Kenya and, although we miss home, we will be sad to go.