“There’s something different about these kids.”
It’s incredible, really. As a former Canopy Life teacher, I’ve had the privilege of working with teams from the U.S., as well as pastors and non-profit workers from all over Kenya. Once our friends meet Canopy Life students (and sometimes these interactions are moments), there seems to be a common sentiment: “Wow, these kids are amazing.”
Look me in the eye and tell me you don’t think your kids are the most amazing creatures to walk the planet. Of course, we know Canopy Life students are awesome, but what is it about these children that make them unique?
Kenya abounds in hospitality. It’s an amazing country, and people like myself who keep coming back for more are proof of this belief; yet, even Kenyans will say there is something different about Canopy Life students. It would seem there is magic happening at Canopy Life. In reality, it’s the grace of God, a lot of love, and a lot of hard work that make Canopy Life so special. Our students need the education and environment that Canopy Life is providing. My goal today is to give you a little insight into what our students’ lives would look like without Canopy Life Academy.
Allow me to introduce you to my friend, Francis. We met Francis in June 2016 when he joined the Canopy Life family. I remember thinking, “This boy is such a bright, joyful light!” He came to us as a 5th grader with a giant sparkle in his eye. I was so surprised and heartbroken to learn that, although Francis grasped new concepts quickly, he had never learned to read and write. His literacy level was lower than that of a first grader.
A. First. Grader.
In many Kenyan schools, like the schools Francis would attend in his village, it is common for teachers to hit students with a pipe or hose for answering a question incorrectly. At best, a child in this situation struggles to survive in classrooms with high student-teacher ratios. Receiving the attention needed to succeed in these cases is highly unlikely.
At Canopy Life, Francis continued to attend his classes with his peers but spent time working with our staff to catch up to the level of the other students. Our campus pastor would take time from his daily responsibilities to help out with this task. Francis learned to read and write. Our staff saw the potential in Francis and stopped at nothing to see him succeed!
Kenya, Education, and a 42% Unemployment Rate
The education system often overlooks the needs of boys like Francis. Had he stayed at his old school, his school career would have ended after the 8th grade (because education is only required until the 8th grade in Kenya). After the 8th grade, Francis would have been thrown into the survival struggle of an economy with a 42% unemployment rate without the tools to navigate his world.
It might surprise you to learn that 85% of Kenyan citizens can read and write. Although Kenya has made efforts to improve education and decrease unemployment, poverty levels remain high. According to the International Journal of Humanities and Social Sciences, out of 188 countries and territories:
“Kenya was ranked at 145, which was the same as the rank of 2012, with a Human Development Index of 0.519 which has been rated as low human development (UNDP, 2013). This is a clear indication that despite the efforts that have been put in place to increase the rate of access to education and with over ten years of free primary school education (FPE), this is not translating to poverty reduction measures as would be expected and millions continue to suffer and live below the poverty line.”
In the most current Human Development Report, Kenya’s HDI value for 2015 was 0.555— which put the country in the medium human development category— positioning it at 146 (HDR, 2016).
What it means to be a young girl in Kenya
These realities can also affect young girls in Kenya. This joyful little girl to the left is Grace Mumo. On her first day at Canopy Life Academy, it was a challenge to get a picture of her when she wasn’t winking back at us. If you were to meet her, she would quickly win you over with her wit and charm! She’s loving, intelligent, inquisitive, and wise. Sadly for girls just like Grace, their stories can take a depressing turn. Girls leaving the 8th grace in rural Kenya can find themselves vulnerable and subject to sexual abuse,
Why Canopy is a different kind of school
Our students have a better future ahead. Canopy Life Academy is unique in that it is providing students with an education that will allow them to face these realities and remain standing on their own two feet. As a family, students learning to have Godly character. They are acquiring technical skills that will allow them to create jobs and be marketable in society. Our students are learning to ask insightful questions rather than memorizing endless information. They are becoming fluent in the language of design, using programs such as Tinkercad and Design Thinking. They are receiving an education that will prepare them for their future. This is why Canopy Life Academy exists. It is not JUST a school, nor is just ANOTHER school. It is needed, and it is helping a great Kenya become even better.
*written by Pip Williams
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