My Time at JAMS

The moment the wheels of the plane lifted off the runway, my nerves finally settled down. I’ve come to realize that in moments like this, I let go of being nervous because the trip is officially out of my hands. I made it to the airport, got through security, got onto the right plane, and my luggage is stored in a bin above me. Nothing left to do but read.

I still couldn’t believe I was finally leaving the country for the first time, though. Or that I was headed to Africa for my first international trip. Most of my life, Italy or Scotland was going to be my first trip. But then a significant life event occurred, and I decided to take opportunities as they came. Just so happens my first opportunity was to travel to Kenya. (Thanks in part to some funding provided by my college’s International Ed Committee.)

I really loved my time at the school (when planning, three weeks seemed sufficient – once there, I immediately knew three weeks was going to be far too short). These young women were the hardest working students I had ever seen – they knew quite starkly that this education could completely change their lives – and they took it that seriously. For some, it would pull them out of a cycle of poverty. In addition, a chance at attending a college or university could propel them even higher. In Kenya, students have a high-stakes exam at the end of the high school years that will dictate if they can continue on to college/university. Because of this, students can be found in the classrooms before classes studying and teaching one another. They also have a required lights out at 10:30 so that they don’t study all night long.

The school is well-built and sits on a hillside with a gorgeous view – overlooking sugar cane fields with green mountains in the distance. Thankfully, the rain held off for most of our trip, and we had beautiful, blue skies. I spent my mornings watching the sun come up, admiring the country – and every time I walked by a window, I couldn’t help but pause. I felt incredibly fortunate to have been a part of this school for even a little while.

Before my trip, I had done research about the Kenyan educational system (as part of the independent study I completed while creating the memoir writing curriculum). Even so, I was not prepared for what I saw. In comparison to schools in the U.S., there are people that I’m sure would see JAMS as a school that was lacking (though I want to be clear – JAMS is not lacking – if anything, they showed me how many barriers to education we create in our own classrooms here with all the unnecessary bells and whistles). What I saw were young women who were eager to learn, teachers who were ready to support them, and everything either could possibly need to do so.

And then we started touring some of the government-funded schools. There was a primary school just down the hill from us, which I’ll discuss more in posts to come – about the lack of basic necessities (like desks for students to sit in so that they don’t have to sit on the concrete floor). Then our guide took us to the kindergarten “room” – a small tin shack set apart from the school building. Medium-sized rocks had been brought in and set in rows with old two-by-four planks of wood laid across them for the students to sit on. At the front of the shack, pieces of cardboard sat against the wall. On one piece, someone has written out the alphabet in capital and lower case letters. Our guide informed us that they had to keep remaking the lessons because people would steal the cardboard for kindling.

Touring these other schools made me appreciate JAMS even more. In comparison, JAMS feels like a paradise. Students get three meals a day, they sleep in the dormitory on the grounds so that they don’t have to worry about being kept home from school to care for chores around the house. They are encouraged to ask questions and to actually learn concepts (as opposed to simply being able to regurgitate information back for the test). There are enough books and desks for every one of them.

It’s not hyperbole to say that my point of view, as a person and especially as an educator, was altered forever.

This picture to the right shows Andrew Otieno and Teresa Wasonga – the founders of JAMS. Right before the photo was taken, Andrew snuggled up next to Teresa, and everyone present went “Awww” – thus Teresa’s laughter. Originally from Kenya, the two brought their sons to the U.S. because they knew the opportunities that awaited them here. But that didn’t mean they forgot where they came from. Teresa had a dream of building this school for girls in an effort to ensure young women still there had a chance to get at an education that could lift them from poverty. The school has done so much more than that.

Whenever someone learns about my trip to JAMS, they always ask if I would ever go back. My answer is always the same: In a heartbeat.

All proceeds from Voices of Jane Adeny Memorial School will go directly to the Friends of JAMS scholarship fund. The Kindle version is priced at $9.99; the paperback is priced at $15. If you are interested in helping further, please consider also donating directly to the Friends of Jams scholarship fund.

Your Donation  Provides:
$50  A year of school supplies for one student (calculator, writing materials, notebooks)
$100  Full set of school uniforms for a student
$250  Solar battery to power a campus building
$500  Textbooks for a student for 4 years
$800  Full Sponsorship for 1 year for one student (tuition, room & board, school supplies, uniforms, books)

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