Four years ago, I introduced myself to these learners as a class teacher. My journey has been nothing but an adventure. I remember the staff meeting before the arrival of the girls immediately after a vote, the principal asked.
‘Mr Magaga, how about you becoming the class teacher of the new group of girls joining in two weeks?’
‘Sure, I am honored!’
I could tell it was nothing compared to the previous schools. For the other schools, which boasted a population of one thousand students, the opening day was always a spectacle. Students adorned in their brand new uniforms with humongous shopping to push them through the term were driven to school, in the company of their kith and kin. The students always radiated so much warmth and an almost childish eagerness to learn and get along with everyone.
BEADS Tembea High School with a population of only one hundred was unique in every sense. Here, the girls reported in their home clothing on a school-arranged transport. Due to the dire conditions, the girls came from, the school had done their shopping from school uniforms, game kits, and even personal essentials. Eager to impart knowledge and change lives, BEADS’ fraternity understands that basic needs are also educational needs and vice versa.
The school targeted individual girls who would otherwise not have gotten a chance at quality education. While the other schools admitted students based on merit where only students with more than 330 out of 500 marks got admission, BEADs for Education worked with local authorities to identify vulnerable girls within the Maasai communities. These were girls at a higher risk of arranged marriages after completing the eighth grade as well as those whose parents and or guardians were unable to keep in school due to socioeconomic factors. So, admission was on a needs basis and not necessarily merit. Moreover, the world was slowly returning to normalcy after the raging COVID. Everyone still loved each other from a distance, smiling behind masks and constantly living in fear of each other.
Good teachers are better learners so I was quick to notice how closed off the girls were. Lacking in self-expression, they only spoke when spoken to, and more often than not opted for a one-word response, and none could hold a conversation. For me, this spoke volumes of an underlying bigger problem and in many ways, was a barrier to learning wholly. How could any learning take place with no communication? While a teacher fully relies on effective communication to aid in the teaching and learning process, students’ ability to communicate enhances and fosters learning and teaching.
Troubled, I sought counsel from one of my dear colleagues from the Maasai community. See, in the Maasai community, men make vital decisions in the household and the community without any contribution from women and girls. This includes even the most personal decisions like when to get married, who to marry, the number of children, and many other key life choices. Never does a man from the Maasai community ask for a woman’s opinion. She put things into perspective and this only meant, I had to go the extra mile by embedding skills such as communication, self-expression, and self-advocacy and give adequate room for critical thinking in my biology lessons. As a good student, I always try to carry the wisdom imparted to me by my teachers. Echoing the words of my university professor, Dr Beth Wambugu, ‘As a teacher, you should know when you need to adapt and accommodate your learner’s uniqueness.’ After barely two weeks of conducting a baseline assessment of my students, it became clear that I needed to be more innovative and strategic to enhance learner engagement, stimulate their curiosity and creativity, build a safe environment for self-expression and self-appreciation and above all, prepare them to be global citizens.
When these girls joined BEADS, little did they know how to build synergies and develop a community. My colleagues and I tirelessly worked to build their communication and leadership skills over and above their academics. By the end of grade 9, we had learners who could effectively collaborate and work independently.
This successful journey has had so much global and local support.
Globally, volunteering at the HundrED organization brought with it so much valuable professional nourishment from my interaction with the HundrED’s global community. I served and saw that service is joy. I got access to volumes of scalable and impactful education innovations that greatly improved the quality of learning in my classroom. It was nice to explore ways of building a beloved community, teaching and learning of mathematics from Springhouse Community, an innovation by a colleague HundrED country lead in the US, Jenny Finn, and more about arts integration in teaching and learning from Lindsay Pinchbeck and Argy Nestor, the USA HundrED ambassador and an academy member respectively. In 2022, I took an epic journey into learning how STEAM education can help foster meaningful relationships between students and community enterprises after a pleasant encounter with the CAPS network, an awesome HundrED innovation from Kansas City. All these and many more interactions with the community in the past three years contributed immensely towards sharpening my skills as a teacher.
Every learner has a story and as teachers, we must create a conducive environment for learners to confidently tell their stories, by first telling our stories. Of the many bittersweet stories that have made up the journey, I am happy to say their names.
Emily, the girl from Samburu; was hit by droughts, abject poverty, banditry, and occasional bombs that denoted having been left behind post-military training. Concerned by the cost of healthcare, she dreams of becoming an innovative leader in providing health services at affordable cost. Her passion for medicine contributed immensely to making her an excellent biology student. During one of my biology lessons, she expressed her frustrations with the high cost of healthcare and even pondered on how she could help and explained why despite her excellent performance in physics, she needed to see biology class. Entrenched in her story, is her purpose for Education.
She boldly told her story in front of others and conducted research and experiments on diseases such as diabetes. On many occasions, she did presentations on the same to her peers as well as our guest sponsors.
As for Sharon, everyone wants her to be something. Not just something, but something great.
‘I know they mean well, and sure they see my potential but what about what I want?’
‘What do you want Sharon?’
‘I want to be a professional football player. I know that even the best footballers went to school and that is why I am here, to add value to my future dream. So, teacher can I go and study sports in college?’
We spent the next ten minutes researching college courses on sports. She found her answer.
Ashley loves football too besides her strong desire to be an electrical engineer.
‘But it is only here in school that I get to play. There are no girls at home to play with. ‘
Isn’t it so joyful to witness a beautiful transformation from shy girls with low self-esteem to sports giants and scouts champions in just a few years? And much more joy in interacting with parents.
As teachers, when we watch them falter, fail, make mistakes, grow, learn, and eventually mature, they become part of our lives. We share in the joys. We share in their sorrows. While at it, we realize that so much more goes into molding these learners into great women of impact. Teachers alone cannot yoke, mold, and whip the chaff. The whole community must come together as they say; it takes a village to raise a child. BEADS Tembea High School is made up of dedicated team players who play versatile roles that immensely ensure a smooth running of the school, right from our able grounds’ man, ‘committed ‘ chef, motherly matron, thorough farm manager, loving parents to the strict security guard.
BEADS’ community has been brave enough to break barriers so that these girls can sit in class and get an education with our sponsors being at the center of it all. We match every girl with a sponsor who pays for their tuition fees, hence a chance to quality education with an enhanced curriculum. Our sponsors constantly remind us of the role of generosity, compassion, and empathy in making the world a better place.
I enjoyed immense support from our school leadership. As teachers, we get motivation and the willingness to try new strategies when we trust our leaders to support us. These students are motivated and connected to the school because they trust their teachers. I feel privileged to have such a faculty leader as Mr. Kiguta Tim. He is truly gifted in creating a supportive environment that rewards not only successful ideas or initiatives but also efforts, no matter the outcome. He understands the importance of building a community through developing trust and creating a sense of transparency and shared purpose with parents, staff, community members, and students.
These girls graduate today and my heart is full. See, to build the castle that stands here today took so many beacons and builders. The castle is made up of;
-Selfless leaders whose skills have been honed and sharpened through the Young Africa Scholars, a program offered by YALE University,
-Passionate athletes, footballers, netballers, exemplary girl guides, aspiring journalists, entrepreneurs, social change makers, climate change activists, conservationists, teachers, and compassionate individuals in hospitality and management.
-STEM beacons, groomed not only by our strong STEM curriculum that innovatively stretched to include the teaching of Marine Biology in the most fun and engaging ways.
Over an above Marine Biology, These girls benefited from a series of STEM role models and speakers from the US Army Corps of Engineers, National Science Foundation, and Ellen MacArthur Foundation. I will forever be grateful to Lisa Jaynes, Rachell Albritten, and Linda Mornar, the builders who provided incredible support and mentorship. The Curious Cardinals provided an incredibly passionate body of student mentors who held my students’ hands throughout their STEM journey. In sub-Saharan Africa, this is how we close the STEM female underrepresentation gap, by inspiring the love of science among girls.
I cannot fail to recognize the immense work of the CEO and founder of BEADS for Education, Debby Rooney. BEADS as we know it, is a nonprofit organization committed to supporting the education of girls from marginalized communities. I see the organization as a viable living organism, growing and reproducing to dominate every sector of the Kenyan economy. It is bigger than any of us and will outlive all of us; generations to generations will remember Debby for her selflessness, hard work, and most so, love for the girl child. Her leadership style spurs growth not only for the students but also for staff members. She tends to harness the best out of everyone. It is barely five years since I joined BEADS but they have been five years of such an exponential growth. Dear Debby, I hope the smiles of these young knowledgeable, and strong ladies warm your heart.
As I conclude, I need to mention that one of the greatest gifts of teaching is that we are privileged to learn almost as much as our students. Every moment with a student presents an opportunity to enhance my knowledge and understanding of the world. I have gained a deeper appreciation of the lives of my learners and of myself. I have come to pleasantly discover that the skills that make us great teachers involve some significant degree of persuasion and explaining things with clarity, connecting with others in trusting relationships, and inspiring people to work harder and reach further. Interestingly, these are very attributes that make us better friends, family members, partners, and parents. And for that, I feel grateful!
Every child has the innate right to flourish and thrive and as teachers, we must pivot them.
To my students, remember, always chase your dreams because they won’t chase you back!
Congratulations to the class of 2023.
Enos Magaga is a director of CAPS efforts in Kenya. His original reflection was published on LinkedIn.