Christ’s Gift Academy sits high on a hill overlooking Lake Victoria. It recently celebrated its 20th year anniversary and is located in Mbita, Kenya. Over 200 students, from pre-primary through grade 8, attend. When I first saw the school about two weeks ago, I was pleasantly surprised to find beautiful brick buildings, lush foliage, solar power (sometimes), and water stored in large reservoirs. My teacher’s heart sang to find a library; class sets of textbooks; and educated, smiling teachers. I have spent nearly a week with the staff and students here, observing, conversing, grading assignments, and teaching. Just yesterday I was able to teach my first class of ESL students! Titus, Gideon, Susan, Jane and Pamela are all employed at CGA but were unable to finish their schooling. They want to improve their English and learn how to read and write. I enjoyed getting to know them and assess their English language skills (which are so much more advanced than I had anticipated!)
I have learned yet again how much I have taken for granted in my short life. The safety, comfort and opportunity so readily available in the West are not so easy to come by here. Just the necessities of daily survival- ensuring the water is safe; the lack of refrigeration, dishwashers, and washing machines; limited cooking capabilities; patchy power to charge devices; limited light once the sun goes down at 7 pm; dust and dirt permeating everything; and the heat- all seem to take up so much time and energy. Our days are full with the chores of living.
Each morning I arrive at school for 7:30. Students and teachers begin with devotions and start their school day at 8:00. Teachers here teach on a rotational basis so, in 40 minutes blocks, they move through the various classes teaching their assigned subjects: KiSwahili, Social Studies, Science, Christian Religious Education, Math, Life Skills, Creative Arts, English, and P.E. This different method of teaching elementary school has taken some time to getting used to. And, with so much rotating of teachers, I’ve found students are left on their own for short periods of time throughout the day. And these days are busy! With a short break for morning porridge (their breakfast) and another for lunch, they are in class from 7:30-3:30 Monday - Friday. In those short breaks between classes they are expected to ensure classwork is finished and handed in and to also compete any homework assigned. Not only that, but students in grades 5-8 have even longer school days.!They are in class from 7:30-5:30! Since so much of the schooling system here is exam-based, much of the teaching practice is “teaching to the test.” This method is no longer used in the West, but is still very much in use here. No marks are written down during the year. Assignments are graded and students are conferenced with to make sure they understand, but there it is the final exam mark that decides how “intelligent” they are.
I have learned that most of the students here have lost either one or both of their parents. CGA was established as a school for those who can’t afford education. The children usually live with their surviving parent or other family member in the surrounding community. As I have slowly been able to get to know some of the staff and students here, I have been overwhelmed at the stories they tell. Death strikes all too often. The more stories I listen to, the more incredibly grateful I am for my upbringing and family. I have been blessed.
|Christ's Gift Academy|
On the flip side, though, I am learning that we are also at a disadvantage in the West. We live in such comfort that we often do not see or feel the pains of the rest of the world. Oftentimes, the struggles of a next-door neighbour can become buried under our busyness and distraction. I recognize that I’ve lived a distracted life, one spent more online than with the human sitting next to us. Here, life is in your face. Struggles are up front and personal. Parents and children get sick and die. Children are born HIV positive. People get malaria. This is reality. There are no distractions from these evil realities of our broken world.
And so, this place is blessed with community. Neighbours know each other. Children actually play outside because there is no television or internet (or electricity!). My housemate -Kristen- and I cook dinner together each night and talk as we eat and clean up the dishes. We exercise together. We go to bed shortly after the sun sets and get up with the sun the next morning. Life is simple. Life is hard. Life is exhausting. But, God is good. So life is good!
The struggle is real here. I’ve had a tough time adapting to the steep learning curve I’ve been placed on. It has been a tiring few weeks as reality has set in and new schedules and routines are being established. I am slowly finding a place for myself and attempting to figure out how I can best plug in to this school community. The situation in South Sudan is still very risky and most missionaries have been forced to leave the country. At this point, I am working to come to grips with the fact that I may not be able to get into the country this year. The few plans I did have for this coming year have had to be reworked and I have spent a lot of time praying for God’s guidance. God, how will you use me this year? What would you have me learn? What would you have me do? Open my eyes and ears so I can hear!
God gave me Isaiah 43: 18-21 last week. It says, “Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland. The wild animals honour me, the jackals and the owls, because I provide water in the desert and streams in the wasteland, to give drink to my people, my chosen, the people I formed for myself that they may proclaim my praise.” God provides and protects. He guides and restores. The struggle is learning to rest in His timing.
My purpose in life is to worship and praise God, however that may look. My goal each day here has been to strive to honour God and to do my best in everything. But, I am also learning the necessity of grace. To also accept the grace of God when (not if, but when) I am not strong enough and I fail. I pray that God would guide my steps as I haltingly try to serve Him. To God be the glory for He has done, and continues to do, great things!