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Learning is highly prized

  • Suzanne Hunter, left, and Kathy Manfre, both of Peterborough, learning a welcome dance from the students of Kisaruni in Kenya.

    Suzanne Hunter, left, and Kathy Manfre, both of Peterborough, learning a welcome dance from the students of Kisaruni in Kenya.

  • Kathy Manfre of Peterborough with her guides, Caroline, Anne and Miriam, at the girls high school Kisaruni in Kenya.

    Kathy Manfre of Peterborough with her guides, Caroline, Anne and Miriam, at the girls high school Kisaruni in Kenya.

  • Suzanne Hunter, left, and Kathy Manfre, both of Peterborough, learning a welcome dance from the students of Kisaruni in Kenya.
  • Kathy Manfre of Peterborough with her guides, Caroline, Anne and Miriam, at the girls high school Kisaruni in Kenya.

While staying at the Bogani Cottages on the Maasai Mara National Reserve in Kenya in October 2012, we took several day trips to the schools that were built by “Free The Children” volunteers. One such school was a girls high school called Kisaruni.

We arrived in the afternoon and were greeted by the students and staff. We were each assigned two young women to accompany us on a guided tour of the school. The girls spoke excellent English, so there was no problem with communication. My escorts were Caroline and Miriam, and somewhere along the tour we picked up Anne. They excitedly swept me off to the various classrooms and proudly displayed their work in math, science and literature.

My immediate impression of these beautiful girls was one of admiration and great respect. Adorned in long red skirts, white blouses and very short haircuts, these young women were poised, articulate and very disciplined. Extremely grateful for this educational opportunity at Kisaruni, they spoke with candor about their devotion to their studies. They described their favorite subjects and teachers, the books they like to read, their dreams and aspirations, and it became so evident to me that the commitment and passion to their education was first and foremost.

When I asked them what they would be doing if they were not in school, they looked at each other and said, “Probably married with babies, and destined to a life of poverty and physical hardship.” It is not unusual for young women in Kenya to be married at age 12, 13 and 14.

It is obvious that their parents, particularly their “mamas,” are behind them 100 percent, encouraging them to seek a better life. Having the opportunity to attend this residential school gives them the hope of an alternative future. They told me, with great enthusiasm, that they intended to go to college and become doctors, teachers, lawyers, scientists and astronomers.

It costs $2,500 a year to educate one of these women, so a total of $10,000 for the four years of high school. Their parents are only responsible for the cost of their uniforms; the rest of the money must come from private donors and supporters.

They go to school through the whole year with limited vacation time. They were quick to point out that during their short vacations they are sent home with plenty of work, so as not to become socially distracted.

The girls that attend Kisaruni must go through a rigorous application process in order to be accepted to the school. So only a select few are able to attend. They begin their day at 4:30 a.m. and classes go until the evening hours, six days a week. The students have set this schedule for themselves.

In rural Kenya, a free, public education is now available to most children until the eighth grade. To continue your education, you must apply and be accepted to one of the few exclusive high schools in the region. I brought my grown daughter, Katelyn Manfre of New York City, with me on this trip and the two of us marveled at these amazing girls and this unique experience. Education in Kenya is a privilege and highly respected.

It was an inspiring, eye-opening day. The girls of Kisaruni welcomed us with song and dance and sent us on our way with a humbled sense of appreciation. It was one of the best days of this Kenyan experience, and what an added bonus to share it with my daughter.

Kathy Manfre is an actress and teacher who lives in Peterborough.

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