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Kids & Happiness: Reflections of working with preschoolers in Kenya

Posted on June 13, 2016

Kids & Happiness

Kids & Happiness

I don’t have kids. So it’s possible the next 882 words you’ll read can be judged as nothing more than opinions from a person only cares deeply for kids and respects the parents who’ve signed up to raise them. That said, I have spent nearly the last decade working with thousands of children from newborns to age six and have witnessed countless families in their quest to raise happy and healthy (and usually bilingual) beings. I’ve had the honor being invited into the intimate weavings of families who are: big, small, close, across borders, rich, poor, inside the States, outside the States, white, black, brown, yellow, mixed, gay, straight, organic, not so organic, monolingual, bilingual, trilingual, and then some. And by now I see there’s an intention by the majority of parents to make their kiddlets as comfortable as possible. And, they’re doing their best to ensure their happiness, because that’s all we can do is… our best.

Cut to: The Kenya Kickstarter campaign that (if we are FB friends) you saw me blowing up your feed with last month. Bilingual Birdies made contact with an informal school in Kawangware, Kenya’s second largest slum and we raised travel funds to fly 7 of our Bilingual Teaching Musicians across the globe to offer English classes through live music, donate instruments, lead teacher trainings, and engage in a genuine cultural exchange of early childhood educators. It was definitely a game changer. Let me further paint the picture of the situation there in Kawangware. The kids attend an informal school called Little Ray of Hope, which was founded by Evelyn, who is simply an angel. Yes, Evelyn is a Kenyan angel. Evelyn collects a very small payment from the parents who can afford to pay and makes the rest of this operation succeed with donations that she very carefully manages. She provides 2 meals a day for each kid. Many of the children’s final meal of the week is Friday lunch, and they don’t eat again until Monday’s breakfast at the school. Their homes are made of four pieces of sheet metal and a metal roof with plastic. There’s open sewage in a single-filed line along each row of houses, no electricity, no running water. The school has two tiny classrooms with 50+ kids in each room and they make it work. Evelyn noticed many kids were coming to school sick with diseases like malaria, and raised money for mosquito nets to be distributed to the families to keep the kids healthy at home. In the school most of the kids are preschool age but there are some older teenage students who show up afterschool. It’s the sort of thing where if you’re 15 years old you know you’re going to be helping out the kids who are 6 years old, and if you’re 6 you’re going to be helping out the kids who are only 3. No questions asked, everyone is happy to be involved. Evelyn has truly established the school as a secure home base for the children where many would not normally have that. Secure home base is something that’s important for all young children to establish and usually happens with the help of the adults in their lives creating a comfortable environment that they can rely on and always go back to physically at first and eventually via their hearts. It’s a place where they feel loved. And one way these Kenyan kids feel loved is by being a part of the community and family that was created for them in the school by Evelyn and her staff of classroom teachers and cooks. Let me assure you there were no ipads, iphones, fancy plastic toys, or certified vegan non-gmo anything…just good old pure, free, aware, present, love. And as a result, the kids were very, very, impressively happy. Happy with being dropped off at school at 6am and picked up 12 hours later in some cases. Happy with whatever color maraca we gave them. Happy to share with their friends without being prompted to share. Happy to help one another distribute porridge in the morning for breakfast in an assembly line of eager-to-participate preschool kids. The ethos of the school is that everyone is looking out for each other. They’re mindful of one another.

I wholeheartedly believe Evelyn should hold workshops on how to replicate this type of secure home base in a school and even in a home. She has 4 kids of her own and has adopted 4 more, all of which live together under her roof in what she’s explained is a place where everyone is treated equally and helps one another. Our 10 day experience in Kenya was epic! The biggest take away is that kids in general don’t need much to be happy. And the good news is that all of us have access to encouraging that happiness within them. It’s a non-subtle shift within yourself as a conscious adult to just be present and try your best to create an environment that is filled with love and support. Because the world is rough out there and if a kid knows they have a home in their heart that is secure and supportive, they will grow up to be a more complete adult and hopefully share that love across borders, and if you’re lucky in different languages.

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