In March, we hosted 50 students we support in high school in a 3-day retreat. On the first day, the students came full of anticipation for what we had in store. All smiles, they greeted each other with fist bumps and high fives as they resisted the urge to hug one another in excitement. It was an opportunity for the students to take a break from their busy school life, take a step back and look at where they are now and where they want to be in the future.
“Teacher, Teacher!” the children call out as they strain to raise their hand higher than the other kids. Finally, Robai is chosen to answer.
“School!” she says, and the word is duly scribed on the board. Now the children call out words related to this first word and a spider-like mind map slowly fills the board. Once all the children have contributed a word to the map, they settle down to write sentences using words in the mind map.
Meet Delina, a fun-loving and happy young girl. She’s the firstborn of three children and lives with her mother. Delina’s father left home during the COVID-19 outbreak, deserting the family when her mother was expecting a baby. During the Christmas holidays, Delina’s mother gave birth then later began experiencing complications. This left Delina no choice but to care for her sick mother, younger sibling, and newborn baby.
The Class 4 students were bouncing with excitement waiting for Teacher Esther to call out the next item. “A red book!” she calls, and the children turn running, leaping down from the playground to search for a red book. A few minutes later, the winning child skidded to a halt on the dusty playground shouting ‘bingo!’ holding a red book high in the air.
Teacher Esther was trying out one of the new games she learnt in our latest team training in Accelerated Learning. ZiziAfrique developed the Accelerated Learning Programme for children who have fallen behind in reading and maths. They armed our teachers with new games and activities to keep the children engaged and learning.
Reflecting on the training, Teacher Esther shared how different concepts build upon each other, like climbing a ladder. Through the training, she gained new tools for assessing where children are on that ladder. The ZiziAfrique team showed us how we can use simple items like sticks, stones and chalk grids drawn on the floor to teach.
We work with children who have been out of school for a long time, some have been out of school for years. Catching up in reading and maths is the starting point for catching up in all other subjects. We’re excited to start using our new learning as we open the school and transition programme in January.
As the pandemic continues to affect many in the world, the number of children who are likely to experience loss and trauma is increasing. With schools closed across Kenya, more children are subjected to child labour, early marriages, child pregnancies, abuse and domestic violence.
Schools are starting to reopen and bearing in mind how difficult these past few months have been, we want to be ready to address any psychological trauma or emotional distress among our students and staff caused by the pandemic. We want to ensure that the staff members are able to overcome their challenges and perform at their best. We also want our students to come back to a safe space that allows them to continue developing holistically.
In September, staff members underwent online training to equip them to improve mental health and trauma support for children and adolescents. The training was run by art therapists from The Red Pencil Humanitarian Mission. The training equipped the staff members to use art therapy tools and techniques to support their students’ mental health as they also take care of their own mental health.
Our Transition Programme Teacher noted that “as a teacher, I have learnt practical ways to use art to help students communicate their emotions. I can create a safe space for children to express themselves and thrive.” Our Children’s Pastor reflected on the benefit to our frontline staff team, saying, “the training has shed more light about self-care and how to self-regulate. In taking care of ourselves, we won’t be fatigued through our work with the new tools in our counselling sessions.”
The use of art therapy is a unique experience for our team because even though we often engage our students in art activities, we have not used it to intentionally create an environment that supports the wellbeing of children and staff.
“The use of art will be useful during our mentorship sessions as it will help the shy students open up more about their problems.” Football coach.
The days have been filled with a lot of learning and self-reflection through art activities. Here are some of the reflections from the staff members:-
“By understanding how trauma affects children differently we can create a safe space” Children’s Welfare Officer
“In our transition programme, the lessons on how to assist students to self-regulate will enable the teachers to help the students settle in and make their transition to school easier.” Kianda Centre Manager
“The training has included staff members from different departments and this will enable TP to support our students more effectively as a team.”
The Red Pencil Humanitarian Mission believes that “When we rescue the child, we save the adult” and by helping our children develop better coping skills, heal from loss and trauma and grow, we ensure that we give them more opportunities to fully develop their God-given potential.
“I miss the food I normally get at school, some days we don’t have enough food in the house” reports 10-year-old Alex, a student from the Fountains of Hope School.
Before schools were closed, we provided daily breakfast and lunch to over 170 children in our programmes. These children represent 150 families in Kibera. Since coronavirus reached Kenya, many of these families have lost their sources of income. Many of them dropped down to eating just one meal a day to stretch out the little that they have.
This is why we are providing weekly food vouchers to the hardest-hit families.
How does the voucher scheme work?
Firstly, we identify which families are most in need. There are still a handful of families who have managed to keep their jobs while others are sustaining their small-businesses despite the present challenges. We survey the families every two weeks and add to the list of those who need the vouchers. This list has grown from just 30 families in the first few weeks to over 130 as the ongoing challenges take their toll on more and more families. To date, we have distributed 1733 food vouchers in total.
Why vouchers? Why not food packages?
The current situation is a strange one. On the one hand, there are families in Kibera who were incredibly vulnerable before the pandemic hit. They were already living on the edge of getting by and the pandemic and its economic impacts have pushed them over the edge. These people need help. On the other hand, there are people in Kibera who, before the pandemic, were running strong businesses. These businesses are struggling now as fewer people in Kibera have money to spend in their shops, but the businesses are still needed and are working hard to stay open. We distribute our vouchers through local shops in Kibera. The families can visit their local shop and collect what they need while the shopkeeper benefits from their business.
If we were to give out packages of food, this would have a detrimental effect on small businesses in Kibera. Shopping vouchers also give families a bit more flexibility to buy what they need each week rather than a prescribed package of food.
We are so grateful to all who are supporting us to provide these much-needed food vouchers to some of the most vulnerable families in Kibera. We aim to continue the programme until schools reopen in January. If you would like to donate towards this ongoing programme, visit: https://goto.gg/46252
All of the children in Turning Point’s programmes have spent time out of school in the past when their parents could not afford the fees. With schools closed, they find themselves at home again. We asked them how they’re getting on…
9-year-old Mercy joined our School Transition Programme in January this year, she was busy catching up on grade 4 work excited to go back to school. But now she finds herself out of school again. Mercy has kept busy at home reading the revision workbook her teachers provided when schools closed. She also has lots to do around the house, babysitting her younger siblings: washing dishes and cleaning the house.
The coronavirus being a completely new disease, we’ve all had to learn about the sickness itself, how it spreads and how to keep ourselves safe. Many of us have google at our fingertips or receive public health messages through our TVs and radios. In Kibera, this is more of a challenge. One of our first responses to coronavirus was to start printing posters about the virus from trusted sources – the Centre for Disease Control and the Kenyan Ministry of Health – to put up around Kibera.
Turning Point has been returning out-of-school children to school in Kibera since 2004. Our School Transition Programme is a one-year programme that helps children to catch up on what they’ve missed so they can integrate back into the school system. The children we serve are out of school due to poverty, not forced to stay home by a global pandemic. Coronavirus school closures may only last a few months while some of the children we work with have been out of school for years. We’ve been working with kids on the margins, kids who slipped through the gaps. But now across the world, we find 9 out of 10 school kids are not in school. Out of school is the new norm, at least for a time. As more countries start to reopen schools or make plans to do so, perhaps we have something to share from the years we’ve spent returning children to school. We thought we would pull together some of the lessons we’ve learned from working with out-of-school kids over the last 17 years…
When we heard that coronavirus had reached Kenya, straight away, we set up the handwashing stations the children use in our centres outside the gates of our projects for the community to use. But we wanted to do more.
At this point, we turned to our friends in the community.