Oh wow, it’s been three weeks since I last posted! Everything here is still good. Work is getting a bit complicated. But my projects are gaining a clearer focus as the weeks tick past. I’ll give a work update later this week, but for now, something different.
Chances are probably quite good that if you’re reading this, you have a hobby. Dancing, painting – something related to music? Amateur photographer? Doodler, or designer? Using the left side of my brain is yet another luxury that I’ve taken for granted (with many grateful thanks, Mama and Papa!). I have learned to play the piano and the trumpet, taken ballet, singing and hip-hop dance lessons. I brought a set of gouache paints with me to Kenya, and have been practicing watercolor painting while here.
And it’s days like this past Saturday that make me wish so fervently for the day when all children have such everyday opportunities to creatively express themselves. I went to watch our most recent football tournament, and to be the photographer for it. As usual, when I break out the big SLR camera, every kid wants to play with it. I had two girls in my lap, so I kept the strap around my neck and let them take pictures. One of the girls, Fatuma, was enthralled. Snap, snap, snap, zooom, snap! Putting a camera into a child’s hands is one of the most thrilling transformations you can ever watch. Suddenly they’re in control of how they look at the world – and some of the ways and things that they see will stop you still, and make you realize how much their young brains take in. In fact, Kids with Cameras was the organization that first got me thinking that I wanted to work with NGOs in the developing world. More specifically, it was their documentary Born Into Brothels. If you missed it somehow, I recommend you watch it immediately.
Anyway, as Fatuma was happily snapping away on the camera, another child, a 7 or 8 year-old boy, became intrigued with my hair and kept petting it. He asked for my hairclip, and began trying out at least a dozen different hairstyles. He passed judgment on each one, until he was finally satisfied. About a month ago, a volunteer brought beads and string to the Center, and the kids leapt on the activity of making necklaces and bracelets with a fervor. We also brought in a poi instructor to give them two lessons, and a few of them picked it up really quickly and really want to learn more skills. It’s examples like this that make me realize how little there is to activate this half of impoverished kids’ brains.
Now, I’m not saying that there is a dearth of creativity among the children in Kenya. Not at all. You’d be amazed at some of vehicles that they make out of plastic bottles, straws rubber flip flops, and scrap wire. But that short list of materials just about exhausts the resources available to the average child in Likoni. Oh, there’s also the old classic “hoop and a stick” – I am not lying, it’s one of the more prevalent toys here. And some of the kids are damn good with it! But every time I see one of them running down the road with one, I can’t help but think how 19th century it is.
And unfortunately, the government, specifically High Education Minister William Ruto, doesn’t think very highly of the arts as an essential part of your daily education. In fact, universities that offer majors in the arts are having their funding reduced, so that more money can go towards science and technical degrees, because those will lead to jobs that directly boost the economy. This is important, and does make some sense. BUT we are not all right-brain-dominant robots though, and this approach won’t benefit Kenya. Some of us are left-brain-led monkeys. Society needs artists and musicians and photographers and performers and designers too. Thankfully, his plan has riled a lot of people in Kenya who agree with me. Unfortunately, despite being a “working” democracy, that doesn’t mean that officials in Kenya actually have to listen to their constituents.