Una vita in Africa – A life in Africa Rotating Header Image

Educare alla Vita – Education for Life

Ian Stanley is just over 17 years old. At the first contact is shy, taciturn, reserved, to the point of appearing surly. Yet when you see him among his friends and classmates at Kivuli  you  immediately realize that he is a born leader. He does not show off, he does not impose himself on the others, but in a group of peers he soon becomes the focus. Since arriving in Kivuli and starting school, he has forged ahead recovering almost all the lost years and completed class eighth last November, and in the school he attended he has always been  elected as class representative. In last two years he has been the overall students leader. Last November his exams results at the end of class eight were the best ever by a Koinonia student, and he was awarded a scholarship by the social responsibility program of Equity Bank in one of the most renowned schools in Kenya. The first day of the academic year, in January, Ian has been appointed students representative for his class.

Catherine Odongo, 21 years of age, is also coming from street life, literally from a life of moving around the streets of half of Kenya with the impoverished mother, in a dehumanising misery that could have made of her a permanent victim. Instead she a young lady of Anita’s Home strongly determined to shape her life according to her dreams. She is already attend the university, pursuing a degree in Tourism, and it is enough to speak with her for a few minutes to understand that she has the inner strength to overcome every obstacle.

Moses Chimwanga with his 23 years of age is the oldest and he is very different from Catherine and Ian. He has a solar character, and it is difficult to see him without an open smile on his face. His history was published last November in the British daily The Guardian under the title “From street child to college boy” with a picture with his usual bright smile in the yard of Mthunzi, our project in Lusaka, Zambia. Due to his lively personality, his school career has not been as easy as that of Catherine and Ian, yet he made it. The memories of his street life, doing anything in order to get some alcohol to drink or some jenkem (solvente per vernici) to sniff, are still vivid and have become a motivation to engage in social work.

Three nice stories, three extraordinary positive persons that are for us at Koinonia the proof that the support we have offered and continue to offer with passion and love to many former street children at Kivuli, Anita’s Home, Mthunzi and other projects is amply re-paid.

But we can not avoid some reflections. First of all, to measure the success of an education for life, like that which we intend to offer, with the sole yardstick of student academic achievements would be wrong. There are many boys and girls who have passed through our homes and have not had great academic successes – because of their history and their personal limits – and have left school at the end of compulsory schooling. They are mechanics, tailors, secretaries, carpenters, waiters and cooks who earn their living honestly and decently.

We do not like the mentality prevailing in Kenya, where newspapers publish with great emphasis the exams results of class eighth and twelfth – respectively, last grade of primary school and last class of the secondary. When such results are published, for several days in the front page of the national papers there are the photos of the best students and the  best schools. For the schools is a source of pride – and above all of profit, since the first ranking schools are always private ones. In the following days there are also, reported in details, cases of students who commit suicide because they have not passed or did not have the results they expected. Education is conceived and practised as purely functional to a type of society that enhances competition and success. The examinations are done through written tests, the same for all students nationally, with the result that education is often confused with memorization. If teachers, schools and parents are interested only that students pass the exams with high marks, there is no real education for life, for the whole human person.

The African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (1990) is a long list of unfulfilled hopes. But it is a good starting point to see what should be the goals of a state education system. The first lines of Article 11 state that “Every child shall have the right to an education. The education of the child shall be directed to: the promotion and development of the child’s personality, talents and mental and physical abilities to their fullest potential; fostering respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms”.

Certainly in Kenya, Zambia, Sudan, where Koinonia is present, the educational system is far from reaching all children, and when it reaches them, it does not promote real education. Children are not taught to think for themselves and to develop a critical spirit, even less to choose the values that will shape their lives. Usually it just indoctrinates them or teaches them notions by heart.

The excluded, the marginalized, do not need an education system that will confirm their feeling of inferiority and convince them of their inadequacies. They need a helping hand that offers them the opportunity to educate – e-ducere or to take out as in the original Latin  meaning of the word – from themselves the full potential of their person. We will never find out the good that can be done and the Gospel that can be announced by a helping hand extended to a child in need.

Catherine Odongo.

Moses Chimwanga.

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