There’s a scene in The Little Mermaid after Ariel trades her voice for legs and makes it to land to have dinner in Eric’s palace. New to the human world, she picks up a fork – and starts brushing her hair with it at the table.
The audience laughs, knowing surely this is not what a fork is for!
This whimsical and lighthearted scene may seem fit for just Disney movie fantasy, but I can tell you it also rings true for a group of kids in Africa.
Over the last 8 years, I’ve been working in resettled refugee communities in Kenya. With the organization Village Impact [formerly called World Teacher Aid], Pete and I and our daughter Molly have helped build 14 schools including 120 classrooms and helped educate over 5,000 students.
More recently we’ve launched a counseling program in 5 of the schools.
I especially wanted you to hear what happened when our Kenyan team took all the 8th graders on a field trip to the big city Nairobi for the first time.
Kids shrieked and sang when they saw tall buildings for the first time. They clutched each other with wide eyes as they saw street lamps and sliding doors. At the elephant sanctuary they grabbed at friends and pointed, exclaiming, “Look at that! And that, too!”
Like Ariel, some children were amazed to see a fork for the very first time!
When we began building schools, we had a desire to educate traumatized children who were internally displaced and had been out of school for 4 years. And as we’ve built, we’ve seen how the schools begin to transform the communities.
We’ve also learned a lot about the many things that act as barriers to education even after classrooms are constructed. And so we’ve sought to tailor our support to each community’s specific needs – helping install gutters and water tanks in one school, introducing meal and snack programs in others, building Teachers Quarter’s to prevent dangerous commutes, and launching counseling programs.
It’s one of the things I’ve grown to respect about Village Impact, the organization we work with. While education is always the primary mission, Village Impact listens deeply to the needs of each community, and focuses its resources and efforts on sustainable solutions. Not imposing our Western idea of what’s right, but really listening to students, teachers, principals, and parents to develop support structures that will help the kids thrive.
Our counselors have made a lot of progress. At first they were viewed as strangers, even possibly spies. Children were told not to sit in a room alone with them. Now they are highly valued members of the communities in which they work.
As a therapist, supporting the counselors is especially close to my heart. And I imagine you can relate to it, too.
I’m including some photos to give you a sense of the passion and energy of the people we serve there. They have so little. And their hearts and spirits inspire me deeply.
I hope you enjoy these photos. And more importantly, I hope you have something in your life that inspires you the way this work inspires me and my family.
Please feel free to comment below or ask any questions about our evolving programs.