From Nairobi to New York

As the Lower School students gathered on the rug in Room 43, excited chatter filled the classroom. These students – all three sections of Class 3 – couldn’t wait to meet their special visitors.

Moments later, in walked four distinguished guests, smiles of anticipation on their faces. After a long flight the day before, they appeared surprisingly well rested and eager to get to know the students.

As the visitors – Hecky Odera, Mercy Kasiti, Florence Odero and Julia Alubala – settled into seats at the front of the room, the students held tight to small slips of paper on which they had written questions to ask, based on their research and curiosity.

For the past several weeks, Class 3 has been immersed in a comprehensive study of Africa. Their classroom work was beautifully enhanced on this particular afternoon, when the students had the opportunity to connect with these four accomplished individuals, who are passionate educators from two pioneering schools in Nairobi, Kenya.

Chapin and the schools – the Kibera School for Girls (KSG) and the Mathare School for Girls (MSG) – enjoy a robust, ongoing partnership that focuses primarily on faculty exchange initiatives. During past summers, members of Chapin’s professional community have traveled to Nairobi to work with both school communities, which are located in vast, unauthorized slums. They supported local teachers and worked with them to develop curriculum, while learning about the area’s culture, customs and educational philosophy.

KSG, founded in 2009, and MSG, established in 2014, are operated by SHOFCO (Shining Hope for Communities), an international non-profit that transforms extremely impoverished communities through health and wellness services, leadership opportunities and rigorous education for women and girls. The schools have dramatically altered the path for hundreds of promising female students. Currently, a collective 566 students attend pre-school through grade 8 and are thriving.

For the very first time, the Kenyan educators, two classroom teachers and two administrators, have been able to journey to New York City to immerse themselves in life at Chapin, their sister school, and share their knowledge and expertise. The four flew direct from Nairobi to JFK International Airport, arriving on Sunday, April 28.

The focus of their weeklong residency is student-centered learning with specific attention to engagement. Thus, Mr. Odera, Ms. Kasiti, Ms. Odero and Ms. Alubala are observing a variety of Lower and Middle School classes, speaking with teachers and students, and gathering information and impressions to take back to their colleagues in Kenya. After school hours, they are also exploring New York City’s numerous sights and tasting a variety of cuisines, guided by professional community members Sarah Bellantoni, Lynette Engel and Laura O’Reilly, who have all traveled to Nairobi.

Back in Room 43, an animated discussion got underway. “We prepared some questions for you,” Head teacher Rick Frey explained to the visitors, who gazed out at a sea of raised hands. “Loud and proud,” Mr. Frey reminded the class.

Reading from their slips of paper, the students posed thoughtful questions that ran the gamut from asking what subjects are taught (literacy, math, science, social studies, STEM, life skills, all in English, as well as Swahili) to what the schools serve for breakfast and lunch (porridge, rice and beans, fruit, lentils and ugali, an African cornmeal dish) to whether or not they have running water (they do, thanks to SHOFCO’s support).

Several students were interested in finding out more about Kenya’s wild animal population. “Who knows what the ‘Big Five’ are?” Mr. Odera asked the audience, referring to the five most prominent species in Africa. After several guesses, the students arrived at the correct responses – lion, rhinoceros, elephant, buffalo and leopard. Mr. Odera told the students that such animals resided in nearby Nairobi National Park.

The students also asked about the schools’ athletic offerings, which, they learned, include basketball and rugby; the after-school program, the favorites of which are art and drama; and the uniform, which consists of a light-blue dress with white trim, a red pullover sweater and red knee socks.

Finally, as the class period wound down, one student asked a final question: “Why did you want to work at Kibera School and Mathare School?”

“The girls we teach are in so much need. Everything we share with them, we see smiles on their faces. We make them happy,” remarked Ms. Alubala, who is one of KSG’s founding teachers.

After a boisterous round of applause, the special guests said goodbye to Class 3 and continued on with their Chapin activities, which included a welcome reception later that day. The four educators are looking forward to the remainder of their stay in New York and enjoying this flourishing and valuable partnership.

Browse photos from the visit below: