A Teacher’s Perspective
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Destination: Kitale, Kenya. 13,000 kilometers across the globe.
I went there not as a teacher, but as an observer – an observer who can’t help taking her lifelong ‘teacher eye’ with her wherever she goes! I was a guest of Thrive, a Canadian charity founded 10 years ago by Dale and Linda Bolton of Thornhill, Ontario. Thrive is based in Kitale, Kenya and its mission is “to help the extreme poor through sustainable organic agriculture and natural medicine.” My husband, Paul, the recently elected Chairman of the Thrive Board and another board member, Somy Winardi, were asked to visit the teaching facility in Kenya so they could see first-hand how the school operated and how it was impacting poor rural communities. Somi’s wife and I were excited for this opportunity whereby we, too, could learn more about Thrive and Kenya.
I really had no idea what to expect in Africa, other than what I’d seen on television. I’d watched travel documentaries showing the wild, majestic animals of the vast African plains; I’d heard unsettling news reports of tribal conflict, gender inequality and corruption; I’d seen images of abject poverty via fund-raising campaigns, and I’d been strongly impacted by learning about the barriers to education for African children. I saw all of this and more while I was in Kenya; but I also saw faith, perseverance, hope, and joy.
Sitting in the Teacher’s Chair
As a 32-year career teacher in Canada, one of the world’s top-ranked countries for its education system, I wondered, “How can this small organization (Thrive) possibly be successful teaching students and “helping the extreme poor” in such an economically compromised country?” They don’t have money for fancy school buildings, high tech resources or curricula, but what they did have were two important ingredients – a deep passion to change the world and highly motivated students. I saw a ‘hunger to learn’ in the students that would put most North American students to shame. The number one goal of most of them was to get as much education as possible so they could have a better life, a life above the strife and poverty they had always known. Dale and Linda, the visionary founders and their dedicated staff are also highly motivated – they really care for the poor and are working hard to make a difference. Motivation is a priceless and precious fuel for change!
The ‘teacher in me’ wanted to know, “How does Thrive teach and train the students and how do they transform their communities?” The Thrive Training Center is located in rural Kenya, about 400 kilometres northwest of the capital, Nairobi. The training center includes the school building, as well as student dormitories and staff housing, all of which are very modest, but adequate in a third world setting. The entire school grounds are covered with vegetable and medicinal gardens which provide food for the students, as well as the location for their hands-on learning. When we arrived in Kitale, 40 students from Kenya and other African countries were just starting a 1-month seminar to learn bio-intensive organic growing, nutrition, natural medicine, and income generation. The Thrive students attend classes where they eagerly take notes every day, participate in many practical learning activities, and because it’s a residential school, watch and discuss documentaries in the evenings about growing organic food, nutrition, and health. I noted that most of the students were reluctant participants in discussions and lacked experience and skill in problem-solving, critical thinking and communication; that doesn’t mean they can’t learn these skills, it just means it’s one of the many challenges the staff faces as they work to develop skilled, enlightened, and compassionate leaders. They are always looking for new ways to teach, encourage, and support their learners. Very knowledgeable and sensitive teachers + lots of repetition and hands-on activities + highly motivated learners = win win win!
Sharing Meals With Students
When I taught, I never invited students for dinner, but that would certainly have given me insight into their lives. Every weekday evening, 3 different students joined us for dinner at the Thrive guest house. We marvelled at their stories – yes, their stories included tremendous hardship, tragedy and frustration, however, we were always moved by their perseverance, resourcefulness, and sheer determination to grow and to ‘move forward’ with their lives! I learned that paying yearly school fees of $200 was very difficult for them and sometimes, even impossible. As I listened, I recalled the stories of some of my former students – stories of how they had just got a new pair of very expensive, name brand running shoes or of the cruise they were going to take at Christmas. Every student I met in Kitale expressed deep and sincere appreciation of the ‘gift’ of education from Thrive! Not one of these students would even think of purposely breaking a pencil in half, as is common in most Western classrooms! Something in me had been changed forever.
Students take the first 1-month course and then return home for 2 months during which time they are required to teach others and start 3 community garden projects. After they start and maintain the 3 projects, they can return to the school to take additional courses. After they complete the required courses and build the required number of community gardens over the next 2 years, they will receive a salary and other benefits. We were excited to invite some of these returning students for dinner, as well. They told us how they had returned to their villages, started garden projects, and shared their knowledge such as improving soil by adding free, locally available organic matter, eating nutrient dense plants to improve their health, and growing Artemisia and drinking a tea made from its leaves to protect against malaria – all with tremendous success! Their stories were full of joy and gratitude because they had seen with their own eyes how the miracles of knowledge and understanding had brought health and new hope to their communities!
The school operates on a “learn and do” model that is highly successful and reproducible. Thrive covers the costs of tuition, food, and accommodation for every student. The organization is financed through donations and more particularly, through the profits of Natural Calm Canada, a business started in Canada by Linda and Dale over 14 years ago. The Thrive team truly believes that this model of small-scale, organic farming could be the solution to ending extreme poverty – they’ve already witnessed hundreds of transformations in peoples’ health and income stability. They’re excitedly planning their next steps.
Always a Teacher
Once a teacher, always a teacher. We can’t help observing and analyzing, all because we want people to grow, learn, and have the opportunity to live full, ‘rich’ lives. My trip to Thrive’s teaching center in Kenya opened my eyes to what’s possible when you combine purpose and passion. I met Thrive graduates in their remote rural communities who proudly showed me bountiful gardens that were helping to feed their families; I felt the gratitude in the guards’ voices as they spoke about the gardens tended by their female prisoners and the change that had taken place in their attitudes and their health; I walked through a large garden built and cared for by destitute widows; I saw small keyhole gardens in a slum because one caring person had taken the course and wanted to ‘share the wealth’ of his new learning; I saw hope in the faces of the new students that these Thrive courses were going to change their lives.
The African animals still roam the plains; corruption still abounds at all levels of society; poverty still resides in every corner of the country, and the public education system still has severe limitations, but because of what I saw and heard and learned, I believe the Thrive’s teaching model is bringing new levels of health, prosperity, and hope to some of the world’s poorest people.
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