Sunday, 14 February 2016

Balancing the Scales of Education

by Naima Thompson
According to the United Nations Declaration of Rights Article 26 #1,
Everyone has the right to education. Education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages. Elementary education shall be compulsory.”

As I read this and contemplate my educational experience, I shudder at the thought of countless students in my own country and throughout North America who sit in classrooms everyday without a thought in the world for the tens of thousands, if not millions, who will never know the inside of a classroom. The expectation of every country is to provide free primary school education for its children. Even if that was to manifest, what about education beyond the primary years? In Trinidad and Tobago, I sat in an all girls secondary school and received an outstanding education at no tuition cost to my parents. I took that opportunity for granted most days. I showed up armored with uniform and books and spending money for snack and lunch and enjoyed all that came with being among my friends and esteemed teachers. I never thought about fighting for my education, even as a girl. No one ever pointed out to me that so many teenagers my age in other parts of the world would never attend secondary school classes because of economic depravity or gender bias or both.

As a teacher in New York many years later, I was still so very clueless and completely unaware of the global struggles for education. I knew by then there was something fundamentally wrong with students wasting their free education as they fought each other over the pettiest of issues, disrupting their teacher’s efforts to share with them with tools they would need to become viable contributors to society. I never mentored those students through a lens of gratitude for the opportunities they were given, yet so many others were not. It was not until my thirties that I started to understand how imbalanced the scales of education really are.

I had already reconciled the reality that all men are born equal, realizing all men were most certainly not living as equal beings. I knew this when Peggy showed up one too many times in my primary school with the smelliest and dirtiest of uniforms, with her hair uncombed standing firmly as a nest on her head, and with not a single book, paper or pen or pencil with which to shape her future. I posed this concern to my mother and thrust upon her the urgency of finding out more about Peggy and changing her circumstances to match my own. I did not have an understanding of humanity and how we all play a part in ensuring its upkeep, but I definitely knew that I was no more deserving than Peggy and wanted very much to balance our own scales. The following morning my mother paid a visit to my school principal and just like that the scales were even…for a while anyway. As it turned out Peggy and her mother had been living in an abandoned bus. I never found out more than that. But when Peggy came to school the following week, she had the advantage of dignity and resources in a new school bag, which at least gave her a fighting chance.

JEHO at work with Necessary Arts

It is with that same spirit child that I now continue to make strides toward evening the scales of education as best as I can with the tools I have. The first time I walked through the slums of Pipeline Nairobi, I knew that my NGO, Necessary Arts School, would make a difference in the lives of the children I was about to encounter. At the time, I walked alone as the only non-Kenyan, toward the JEHO orphanage ready to use the dramatic arts to aid in the children's development. The children and teenagers greeted me with a warm welcome, as well as with a great sense of curiosity, as they sat obediently in their white plastic chairs typically used for church service, listening intently to me explain my purpose for entering their world.  They very patiently and respectfully learnt about Ms. Naima and the Necessary Arts School and what was to come. Five visits later, each time with a team of teacher volunteers, a strong bond of mutual trust and respect between JEHO and NAS is ever present.
It is in this space of mutual regard that our partnership can manifest its most urgent and needed goal: the education of 18 adolescents, both girls and boys.
The teenagers at the JEHO Orphanage will leave their sanctuary in the Pipeline Slums and head out to various boarding schools to earn a basic human right provided for free in many countries, but certainly not theirs: a secondary education. They will be free of worrying whether or not they will remain in school for the full year of 2016. The Necessary Arts School team has paid the full tuition and incidentals for each secondary school aged student at JEHO to demonstrate our commitment to and belief in the rights of education for all. We are committed to continuing the drive for this education fund to sustain these students’ tuition fees throughout the years to follow. Part of that commitment involves reaching out to other humanitarians with similar desires to sponsor the education of our global youth, but perhaps with no trusted system through which to do so.

The cost for a secondary education in Nairobi, ranges from $250-350 USD per child per year. Until the Kenyan government can balance the scales of education for their own, we, the privileged and abled humanitarians of the world, must weigh in and tip the scales for those who so deserve this basic human right of education.

If you are one of those humanitarians who wishes to contribute to our Education Drive, please contact us at for further information about how you can get involved in balancing the scales of education.

Saturday, 6 February 2016

A Parent’s Reflection

by Paula Peters

A number of years ago, I was asked What do you consider success to be? After pondering for sometime, I responded, I will have succeeded if my children leave the world a better place than they found it.And so over the years, I’ve tried to impress upon my kids the importance of being productive members of a global society.

To some extent Ive been successful. My children have been exposed to a number of experiences through travel and community service. We have dinner conversations around privilege, carbon footprint, and integrity. But even though my children have both had volunteer experiences, these experiences have rarely gone beyond the traditional charity framework. Rarely have they been pushed to become sensitive to the nature and needs of other cultural groups.

For my son Jannick, the Necessary Arts experience in Nairobi was a turning point.  Before he joined Necessary Arts - Reach the Unreachable Nairobi project, his reflection was shaped by the expectations of others. Even though he had had many deeply engaging service opportunities before, he sometimes struggled with making meaning to since many of those experiences were not authentic or organic in nature. He had been able to sympathize with the suffering of others but he often actually compared himself with other youngsters or asked, How would this experience shape me had this been my lifes story?

After joining Necessary Arts Team in Kenya Jannick is better able to engage with social issues outside his immediate experiences and to feel an obligation to help make a difference.
After sharing tea with George, one of the Lost Boys of Sudan, writing poetry with Valarie, a Massai teenager who was also 16 and interviewing boys and girls of JEHO, Jannick now has the capacity to imagine someone else's point of view and the desire to establish and maintain supportive relationships with such individuals. He is better able to embrace life lessons, and understand how certain unspoken perspectives, dispositions, and behaviors sometimes reinforce
how we view others and ourselves.