I purposely left the house at 2pm—the time that the meeting was supposed to start. Even though I got to the school half an hour late, I was still one of the first parents there. The teachers were crowded around the chalkboard carefully using a ruler and colored chalk to draw out a chart cluttered with numbers. I sat down on one of the wooden benches, lamented the fact that I had forgotten a pen, and tried several times to load facebook’s news feed. Yup, no signal. This was going to be a loooong meeting.
Forty-five minutes after the meeting was supposed to start, the teachers finally called the parents’ meeting to order. I’m sure parents’ meetings in the US aren’t fun, but ones in Kenya seem especially excruciating. All the parents of class seven kids were required to come due to the fact that the class had scored 18/19 in the district on the recent midterm exams. Hard to do worse then that. The teachers spent the majority of the meeting blaming the parents for not properly motivation and providing for their children. How many parents had bought some type of story books for our kids? In a classroom packed with parents only four of us raised our hands. Why weren’t the kids bringing lunches to school? Why weren’t all of the parents present? The kids whose parents hadn’t graced the school with their presence were pulled to one side of the room to serve as an example of what not to do.
Three hours into the meeting my head began to pound. Concentrating so hard on understanding Swahili, seeing kids marched in front of me while their midterm scores were read in front of everyone, heads down staring at their shoes (which were in various stages of disrepair) did a number to my head.
The class teacher with her multi-colored braids and black and white poka-dotted earrings kept saying, “these are good children,” but would then belittle the child for something he or she did in class or for the fact that their parents where absent. The audience chucked at the teacher’s stories of the kids antics, but I couldn’t. One little girl looked like she wished the floor would swallow her—tattered royal blue sweater and all.
Three out of my four kids were in the top 5 of their class with one of my girls scoring the highest score in her section. I was told to buy her a present, and they called her a Muzungu (an English speaking foreigner). My fourth child didn’t fair as well coming in number 14. I was told that he could do better. I nodded and watched him march in line with all the other students who hadn’t quite made the cut.
Each teacher took a turn defending his or her teaching methods. The clock kept ticking. The chief stood up and told a story about how he gives his son money when he scores well on his tests. Then it was the parents’ turn. They mostly blamed the teachers. The teachers turned it back on the parents saying there was only so much that they could do. I saw no end in sight so finally I apologized and ducked out of the dark class room between parental complaints.
The air felt light on my face and my headache slowly started to subside. It seems hopeless at times. Sure, I can do what I can to help the kids who live at the children’s home where I volunteer, but what kind of future do the rest of these kids have? I’ve offered to help out at the school once a week helping with English or composition. The headmaster appreciated my request but has never taken me up on the offer. I’m afraid that he thinks the English teacher would feel threatened by my presence. So I wait. I go to three hour parent meetings, try to show that I do care, and wonder what to do next. How do you help when help is needed but not wanted? How do you help when the teachers care more about defending themselves then they do about educating children?