“It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men,”
– Fredrick Douglas
Last year’s Valentine was a special day for our family. It was a win-win situation. My wife had a road trip and vacation while I ended up doing what I enjoy doing the most – sewing buttons and talking to boys! To do this, we had to travel to Naivasha on a trip that continued revealing why boys matter.
A Citizen TV News Presenter and a Single Mom
After our vacation was over, we went in search of Longonot D.E.B Primary School. I had first gone to the school for a training on how to produce TV programs for preschoolers. I had promised to come back. 3 years before my second visit in 2015, we had met a girl who was now in Class 4. She still remembered me!
Whenever I visit a group of Class 8 candidates, I always ask for two volunteers – a boy and a girl. Normally, boys don’t want to step out. It is a trend that keeps on repeating itself in every school, place, church and I bet it could be happening all over the world. Boys sort of want to remain in the background!
Wait a minute… That is what happens in most families that the children belong to. Mothers are actively involved and the children see this. There are cases where mothers do everything in the house – paying rent, fixing broken sinks, replacing bulbs and telling the landlord ‘Baba so-and-so isn’t home‘ when the father is actually lying on the bed, hiding.
After a courageous boy finally stepped up, after my wife and I pushed and pushed, I asked him to come to the front of the class. A few hesitant steps later, he joined the petite girl who had been standing in the front for the last, almost 10 minutes of pushing and encouraging a courageous boy to step forward.
Daniel Mwendwa, 17 years
Lilian Mapesa, 13 years
I asked the two volunteers to share with the class where they wanted to be when they each turned 30 years old. Daniel believed he was going to be a Citizen TV news presenter with 1 wife and 3 children, preferably girls. Lillian wanted to be a single teacher who didn’t plan to ever get married!
Chances are, Daniel and Lillian may get married to each other. But that is a story for another day. It takes 16 years to complete the 8-4-4 education system. There is talk that this is soon going to change. However, let me use it for today’s illustration. Daniel and Lillian are both halfway there.
Daniel has 13 years ahead before he turns 30 while Lillian has 17 more years to go. I asked them a question that no one – teacher or parent for that matter – asks of their children. Most of our children go through life the way we did. We seldom think about the distant future. Even when and if we do, we don’t factor in marriage and having children.
I knew I had asked too much from Daniel and Lillian. Their decisions were influenced by the environment they were growing up in and the people surrounding them. If I had been asked the same question when I was a little boy, I wouldn’t have given a positive forecast of my future and what I wanted to achieve.
A leaking roof and falling walls
When I was growing up, I was surrounded by negativity. After our dad had passed on, our grass-thatched and mud-walled hut begun falling apart. The roof leaked when it rained while the cake of mud on the walls came tumbling down. We needed help. We prayed about it all the time. Yet, because mom had refused to get inherited, no one was allowed to touch our hut!
When it rained, my siblings and I would wake up to help mom trap the rain water in basins, buckets and everything that could hold water while one of us carried our last born sister who was fast asleep. Much as mom was a staunch born again Christian who called Jesus her husband, I knew it was too much on her.
It is not easy for a widow to lose her husband to death. It gets more difficult when she is told she has to choose another man – from her husbands clan or wherever – to inherit her. And even when a widow fulfills every single customary demand, it doesn’t guarantee she will get full support from her in-laws and family members.
Her sons will more often than not be employed as farm hands and become expert grave diggers in the village. While her daughters may be whisked away to the city to become house helps to their relatives and if they are lucky, to their relative’s friends. As if this isn’t enough, she will find herself being tossed from one selfish inheritor to the other.
Customs and people’s way of life and doing things isn’t bad. It is the way those who are involved deal with each other that may spoil its intended purpose. Most of the children I meet – in schools, rehab and juvenile prison – have been brought up in a custom and way of life that shapes them to believe their future depends on their present circumstances.
That is why I found it difficult growing up believing I was going to become a journalist. I also think – and strongly believe – that the children I meet, especially the boys, find it difficult to not confine themselves and their distant future to their present circumstances. It is difficult for a child to aspire to be a successful person who is responsible and married.
4 things that sound like blah-blah to the boys I meet
- Vision: what and where they see themselves
- Focus: doing the things that bring the best out of them
- Treating others well; as they would want to be treated in return
- Big picture: they are bigger than their present or past circumstances
In the end, I shared with the Longonot D.E.B Primary School Class 8 candidates the importance of finding valuable treasures within that will enable them to see Naivasha and the challenges facing their families differently. I shared the importance of not letting the environment to define them in any way.
After sewing buttons for the children in lower classes, my wife and I left Naivasha for the long drive back to Nairobi. We didn’t know whether what we had just done mattered in the lives of the children we had met. My only hope was that by praying while sewing buttons and talking to the children we had done something significant. Only time will tell…
Running for My Life continues…
This is an excerpt from Running for My Life, a book I am writing about my experiences after I quit my job as TV producer to focus on mentoring boys in juvenile prison. I will be including parts of it in my daily posts.