Friday, November 6, 2009

"On the outskirts of every agony sits some observant fellow who points."

This is Patrick. He has almost single-handedly transformed Ngungugu and its primary school. For Patrick, it’s personal. He grew up in this village and sees the cycle of poverty and is determined to do something about it. Through sheer will and determination he completed his schooling and went on to university and started a very successful construction business in Nairobi.

Being in the village today, it is almost unfathomable to me how he was able to overcome this extreme poverty. His family could not afford to send him to secondary school and he begged the head master to allow him to go. Begged.

He told me today that he always had a penchant for helping others. His mother had a small shop in the village when he was growing up. He remembered when he was 10 years old he stole a bag of beans from his mother's store. He gave that bag to an elderly woman in his village who was caring for all of her children and grandchildren on her own. For 10 year old Patrick, that just wasn't right and he needed to do something about it. (And, he decided to ignore the risks involved in stealing from his mother!)

When we arrived at the school Thursday the upper class students were celebrating the last day of class. They had completed 8th grade and were “graduating” from primary school. The next step for them is to take exams and try and get into secondary school. For most of these students, this celebration today will be the last time they are in the classroom. While numbers are improving (a few years ago only 1 student went on to secondary school and this year they think maybe 5 or 6 will), they are still grim. The unfortunate reality is most of these families cannot afford to send their children to high school, even if they pass their exams.

(By the way, it was unusual to see food in the classroom as typically these children eat once a day in the evening. That is the one meal that sustains them throughout the next day. They wake up without a meal and they don't have a meal at lunch. All the while in school.)

The students offered us bowls of food. I felt so guilty eating their food knowing that the other students not in 8th grade were starving, but Patrick said it would be insulting to not to accept it.

All of the students were so gracious and generous and excited. They loved seeing pictures of themselves (the genius of the immediate gratification of a digital camera!) They have such hope in their eyes and yet for most of these children poverty is the beginning and end of the road for them. Tragic.

The money we raised is going toward new desks for the Class 1 students (these are the youngest students in the school.) The desks that they currently have are too tall. They are forced to stand all the day so they can reach their desks to write.

It was so incredible and gratifying to be able to visit this school with a very specific project that we were able to implement using some of the money raised.

This school has benefited greatly from AMF and the work that Patrick has done. Some of the other projects completed are:

-Putting a roof on the school. It is unthinkable to me that up until recently there was not a roof on the school. Especially given the downpour we experienced last night.

-Putting in window panes. Previously there were only holes in the wall.

-Adding a girl’s bathroom. It was not entirely clear to me what the girls did prior to this.

As we were leaving, I was struck by the boy standing on the other side of the fence not in uniform. I asked the principal about the boy. She told me he broke his arm two weeks ago and his parents pulled him out of school to heal. They can't afford medical care and it's too painful for him to be in school. When Patrick heard that he immediately went into action to make sure the boy would be able to go to a clinic on Monday.

In an otherwise hopeless and desperate situation, I was so incredibly inspired by Patrick. He indeed is the fellow who points.

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