Friday, July 30, 2010

Journal entry: Alfred Part 4

Writing a blog is interesting because most people live faster than they write about it. This is also true for me. I am writing about events that took place months ago.  I recently stumbled upon a journal entry that I wrote the day before I went up to see Alfred for the first time:

  Tomorrow we go to Il Polei to visit Alfred.  He has been at school for about two weeks now.   I haven’t heard from him at all (which is a good sign).  I must admit however that I am nervous.  Nervous that Alfred has been miserable in Il Polei.  Through no fault of his own.  I imagine it is such culture shock for him.  He is a little kikuyu boy taken out of the city and brought to a school in the middle of the bush that is almost entirely made up of Massai.   Massai, the pastoral warrior tribe among whose chief concerns are their Cows and how high they can jump.  Alfred can’t jump very high and he is scared of Cows.

What if he never made friends?  What if he decided that these people are weird and he had nothing in common with them.  Even worse, what if they hated him and he was ostracized from day one?

What if he just can’t function in school?  He isn’t used to studying all day and night.  What if he is exhausted by his schedule and decided to give up.  What if he already gave up and headed home?   It would be pretty embarrassing for me to show up then.

I have to have a positive attitude.  I am sure it will turn out fine.


(Alfred the day before he left for Il polei Primary)


(Alfred with all his gear, dressed like a student)

Monday, July 5, 2010

Getting Into School: Alfred Part III

The recommendation from Mr. Hezron came as quite a relief. “Alfred has a legitimate case and should be helped, but he needs to attend Boarding school.” Boarding School?

When I started on this journey I expected to pay for a uniform and some school supplies. The problem for Alfred however was not that he couldn’t afford these things. He couldn’t afford them, so they were a problem, but the much larger problem was food. He was supporting himself by waiting all day for someone to buy him food. If he went to school he would come back and have nothing to eat at night, and nothing to eat in the morning when he left home.

So we had to find him a boarding school. Cost was an important factor but not the most important factor. We decided to focus on midrange to cheap schools in the area that had a good reputation. I talked to EVERYONE about school recommendations. All the teachers and staff of Daraja, Mr. Hezron, and the lady who works at the academic bookstore was particularly helpful. I felt like a soccer mom trying to find out the best school for my kids. I narrowed it down to a list of 6 schools.

Anticipating the Mzungu factor I had a teacher call the schools and ask in advance what the price was and what the application process was like. Some of the schools wouldn’t tell me until they met the boy so they were automatically put at the bottom of the list. We settled on a school called Nanyuki boarding as the first logical place to go.

(Alfred and myself, the morning of his admissions test for Nanyuki Boarding)

We showed up in the morning and I paid the application fee of 200 shillings (about $2.50). Alfred was to take an entrance exam that lasted five hours! I don’t think I would be able to take a five hour test. But the poor kid did it. When he came out he was smiling which gave me some hope. The woman who graded the test did it right in front of us. Math, English, Kiswahili, Science. He passed them all except the Math. They wanted 80% and he got 77%. Inwardly I was pleased that he could even do that well after spending a year on the street and out of school but we also needed to find him a school. The lady said that we might be able to get him in and she said that she would talk to the principal and text us that evening.

The next morning I received a text “your boy has failed to qualify for class 6 or class 5- secretary of Nanyuki Boarding”.

It was to be the first of a number of rejections. After making the poor kid take tests at 4 schools it slowly dawned on me: he might not get in anywhere.

After a month of calling places and applying we had had little luck. Mr. Wathitu the administrator of Daraja had an idea. He called a public school up in the middle of the bush. It is called Il Polei Primary and it is a public school. Since it is in Massai territory many of the children’s families are nomadic and might be fifty miles away at any one time of the year. Because of this Il Polei is a public BOARDING school. Mr. Wa (as we call him) talked to the principal and he said “Sure, send him up”. That same day Mr. Hezron called saying that he had pressured a private school in town into accepting the boy. Suddenly we had TWO options.

Il Polei being a public school was much cheaper. In addition it was a good distance out of town which would make it less likely that Alfred would run away. In the end Alfred decided he wanted to leave town and go someplace where there would be no stigma of “street boy” following him.

We got him the necessary equipment and clothing and took him up that next week.