By: Patrick Messac
In chemistry class, Chadwick Ouko is the paragon of a good student. He is disciplined and obedient, he often leads the class as they recite-in unison-their answers to classroom questions, he never asks the teacher difficult questions, and he keeps the class on task by always working by himself. On the football pitch he always passes when his teammates are open and on Friday nights he helps lead the choir during their vespers celebration. All of my interactions with Chadwick, a form 2 (10th grade), have been very professional and formal. Whenever I tried to get to know more about Chadwick’s life, he would stress his dedication to his education, his God, and his family. When I asked him about his family life, he told me it was “Very fine, thanks.” This was a pretty standard interaction, not only between Chadwick and me, but also between many of the Duke students and the Kenyan students. This barrier in both communication and openness made it very difficult for us to understand the challenges facing the students of Muhuru. It would be very important for us to have an understanding of these challenges as we prepare to address the issues that we are destined to face with the future WISER girl students.
We decided that we had to open up a dialogue with the students through various methods. We had to encourage students to open up and express themselves. Sunny and I came up with hosting a poetry workshop for all of the students. I called all of the students to a classroom and on the board wrote:
1) Write from the heart.
2) Use grammar the way you see fit.
3) Write from the heart.
Sunny added that, just as a picture represents far more than what can be seen on the canvas, a poem, despite its scarcity of words can says much more than what is on the page.
So, after posing some questions, the students found a place where they could write. After about 10 minutes, students began to run up to Sunny and me to have us read their poems. With nervous anticipation, likely caused by the fear of us tearing apart their paper with red ink, they waited as we read their poems. Sunny and I looked at each other after reading the first poem and began to show great excitement about the students’ writing ability, depth of thought, and emotion. The students were shocked by our cheers and high fives, and encouraged by our enthusiasm. Many ran back to their spots to expand their poems or even write new ones.
Towards the end of the workshop, Chadwick approached me somberly with his poem. It read:
My Dying Mother
Written by: Chadwick Ouko
My dying mother laid on the bed
I worn by my weeping sat by her
By that moment fear approached me
Death coming like arrow shot
Winging its way to the eyes of
Mother! Mother! Tell Me! Tell Me?
Who fathered me,
Who are our relatives,
Where do we come from,
Too weak to utter a word
She choose to remain silent.
I wanted to know
the naked truth
She always said that I’m too young yet
Now I’m approaching eighteen years old
And she is dying. I wanted to know
the naked truth
She open her mouth and said
Your father was --------,
Go as mother and she keep
Quiet and she was dead.
I wanted to know
the naked truth.
Each night before the students go to sleep the students have an opportunity to talk about their favorite part of the day. That night, after the poetry workshop, Chadwick explained, “Today, I found a new skill in writing poetry. It feels good to have my say.”