School Search Success (And it includes hot showers!)
// February 8th, 2012 // Kenya
I have been writing about searching for a secondary boarding school for someone who is like my little brother in Kenya. If you’ve missed them, you might want to catch up on the previous posts before reading the final post in this series:
At 9pm the night before, I was completely exhausted. It was a long day and combined with little sleep, it had taken it’s mental and emotional toll on me. I briefly chatted with a few of the other volunteers when I returned from Gaichanjiru who wanted an update on the day, and then I intended to go straight to bed. But I ended up sitting in the office with an extremely funny volunteer and sharing stories from Kenya and laughing until my sides hurt, and suddenly I was falling into bed at midnight. Sometimes exhaustion must succumb to laughter to put mental well-being back on track.
The following morning, it was Wednesday, I decided to start searching for private schools in Nairobi. I threw the cost factor out the window (well except for the really rich expat schools) and put entrance requirements and school performance at the top of my list. I found two great schools in the Nairobi area, and my friend E. had called around and found one for me to look at as well. I figured we would need two days to visit all of the schools since the schools are in different parts of Nairobi and traffic in the city is a nightmare. And, since it’s not a quick trip to get into Nairobi to begin with, I realized we needed to leave today. I called John’s older brother and asked him about the feasibility of leaving as soon as John got out of school. It turns out John was given permission to leave early to go to the clinic, since he had been sick, so we decided to leave after that.
I took a matatu to John’s former primary school to get some documents from them, phoned all of the schools to make arrangements to visit, packed an overnight bag, and picked up John. We set out for Nairobi in the afternoon and made it to the city just before dark. After a short rest and a bite to eat, I filled out application forms to one of the schools, and tried to figure out transportation routes to the others.
Thursday morning we got up early, had breakfast at our hotel, and boarded a bus to a new area of town to visit boarding school numero uno. We passed many interesting sights along the way and anxiously awaited for the conductor to tell us it was our stop. When we hopped off, I recognized some street names from Google maps and knew we only had a few blocks to walk. I had purchased a newspaper back in town, preparing to wait in a long line like I had at previous schools. We walked past huge homes being constructed and then spotted the gate and the school sign. I knocked and even yelled for an askari’s (security guard) attention but saw no one. We decided to let ourselves in, and that’s when the guard took notice of us. We both stopped short to take in the sight of the large school bus, the well-manicured lawn, and the nice school building. Apparently private schools in Nairobi operate on an entirely different level than we are accustomed to. I signed in, and the guard kindly escorted us to the front door. John and I commented to each other on the appearance of it all.
I walked in and told a gentleman standing there that I was here to see A. (the secretary) about a Form 1 admission. She was kind, just as she had been on the phone the day before. I was given a single sheet of paper to fill out and handed a school informational brochure, the fee structure, and the uniform requirements. Strange, I thought, since I didn’t know if John had been accepted or not. I handed A. my application, was introduced to the accountant and also to the principal, who was less authoritative and much more engaging than any other principal I had met in Kenya. I took a tour with the accountant while John hung back to speak with the principal. I found out that there would only be 15 students per class and told the accountant how our secondary school in the village has 60 students per class! I saw the school’s fully equipped science lab, computer lab with internet, piano, sunny dorm room, dining hall, and teacher’s lounge. We saw the principal showing John the dorms, and I hear John telling him, “Never in all my life have I seen a school like this.” The principal laughed and turned to me and said, “This boy is very funny.” Really, he just doesn’t know how much truth is in that statement. They told us a few more facts about the school, including the weekend field trips to go swimming, play tennis, or participate in soccer tournaments. I knew that the school had great test results for the past two years, and yet their entrance requirements are very average. Why? Because they believe, and have obviously demonstrated, that they can mold kids into high-performing students in their academic setting.
The principal told me the reporting date, and I was so happy to hear that it was my last day in Kenya so I would be able to bring John to school. I realized that simply having a high enough pass mark and the ability to pay was all that was required. They never so much as blinked at John’s birthday (which the public boarding schools had given us a hard time about), and when John explained to the principal that he didn’t get to start school until he was 12, the principal simply remarked that John “must really want an education!”
We exited the building, scoped out the soccer field, and remarked once again about the nicely manicured lawn (Yes, I keeping coming back to the lawn, but it’s a big deal. You should see this place.). I asked John what he thought, and of course he loved it. The first thing he said was, “They have hot showers!” We just knew this school was it, and there was no need to look further. The facilities, the small class size, the friendly staff, and the amount of individual attention he will receive, were factors that did it for us. Plus, selfishly, this school’s Form 1 students report earlier than most so I was happy that I could take him to school. Also, out of all the schools we planned on looking at, this one is the easiest for me to visit from Nairobi. The ride back into town was full of those “Is this really happening?” moments. We commented on the nice and safe neighborhood and tried to recall every detail of the school. We flipped through the brochure again, and I think I was almost as excited as he was. The two weeks of school searching were over and they were worth it. Even though I reached a point where I thought we’d never find a school and had moments of despair over why John was being punished for his age, it was worth it. We discovered he really needed to start in Form 1, and we found a small, high performing private school to do so.
Friends of ours gathered in Nairobi that afternoon for us to take care of some business matters. It cast a small shadow on our excitement for John’s school, but we made sure to go out for a celebratory dinner and pay a visit to our new friend at the Stanley. That evening we climbed into bed around midnight. I pulled down my mosquito net over my bed and tried to keep the scratchy material from creeping in around me (having it touch your face is the worst!). A few minutes later, John starts to talk to me. And two hours later, we were laughing so hard and making more raucous than the drunkards in the alley below us. He’s happy. I’m happy. Regardless of the fact that the following week would be one of the toughest of my life and he would leave his village where he grew up feeling like he couldn’t return, this was a milestone in his life. And in mine. Fait accompli. Mission accomplished.