Rose sits down to study on a worn out sofa in the corner of a tin shack at 7:00 pm each school night. After she’s helped with washing up and ensuring that the other 20 orphaned children she lives with have been fed, Rose begins her homework. Science, her favourite subject, gets an hour’s attention and she usually ends at midnight with English. At one time she hoped to become a teacher, but now, Rose imagines herself as a journalist. She wants to write stories about other people’s lives. Her newfound confidence to some extent comes with age, she’s 14 now. Yet it’s also the result of the marked increase in her grades. A year ago when I gave her a solar light her scores totaled around 300. They’re now 450. Disciplined for her age, with the light she’s increased her nighttime study time from 15 minutes to five hours.
In my long blog about kerosene last year, I told the story of Rose, who lost her parents and brother to a kerosene fire. Lucy Odipo, the founder and headmistress of Little Bees School in Nairobi’s Mathare Valley slum, became her guardian. The only possibility to study was to the inefficient and toxic flames of a tin can kerosene lamp that made her feel ill. A Grade 7 learner, Rose understands the importance of education and good marks – it’s the path out of poverty and to one day securing a job.
I first met Rose four years ago and now she’s as tall as me (5’6”). Well spoken, yet still shy, she was recovering from typhoid. It’s heartbreaking as there are far too many health, safety, security and educational issues that a child living in poverty has to contend with.
In addition to improved grades, Rose says that the solar light ‘doesn’t pain her eyes’ like the koroboi (kerosene lamp) did. Her light aids her in seeing to go to the toilet after dark instead of using a plastic packet. In this regard, the light helps preserve her dignity.
Situated next to a tributary of the heavily polluted Nairobi River, Little Bees is one of an estimated 1,600 community-supported informal schools in Kenya. A dumpsite that bordered the school has now been replaced by more shacks. There’s an urban market garden on a small patch of ground that provides onions, potatoes, squash and other vegetables to the learners.
The school relies on donations from the impoverished community and support from well-wishers and NGOs, which have provided books, uniforms, toilets, a water faucet, a rainwater harvesting drum, and an over-sized cooking pot to serve a daily meal to the children. It’s overcrowded; some classrooms are dark with mud floors. All leak when it rains. There are three classrooms on a second story divided by white plastic sheeting. Children shimmy up and down a rickety ladder. Most of the teachers volunteer. Every donation is appreciated and little is taken for granted.
Every time that I have visited Little Bees, there’s been a consistency that’s palpable. The children love attending the school.
by Kristine Pearson