Equal treatment for children in unequal situations is not justice.
– Jerry Brown
Growing up in a small village in the western part of Kenya, I thought I knew struggle. The first school I attended in the late 80s was very rudimentary in terms of infrastructure, and the colonies of jiggers flourishing in the earth floors in the classrooms didn’t lack for food, this is because most pupils went barefoot as cheap plastic Sandak shoes were out of reach for all but a few. To keep the gnats at bay required applying cowdung on floors by hand every Friday (a disgusting task that was not optional), even worse if your family had no cows, or they didn’t do the needful, then you’d have to go to a neighbour’s compound, container in hand, and request a serving of animal waste. Fumigation or other means of pest control was unheard of and most likely unaffordable anyway.
I cannot really say I knew hunger, three meals a day were a given. In deed my biggest worry in those days was getting a shilling to go with to school every day (wrapped in a handkerchief pinned to my chest). Back then a single bob could buy ten vitumbwas or sugarcane almost a metre long come break time, plus there was the free nyayo milk that assuaged the pain of having to cram the dictatorial propaganda that was Nyayo Philosophy.
Fast forward to 2016, thirty years later, and passing through Mandera I behold scenes of kids eager to learn having to make do with: tattered clothing, lessons in swirling dust under thorn trees, a semi-illiterate teacher, no furniture whatsoever, scorching heat. And all these when their diet consists of a cup of black sugar-free tea in the morning that will keep them running till they’ll have some porridge for dinner, plain drinking water is in fact a luxury. I now realize I had it really good growing up actually, my childhood was a walk in the park in comparison. The discomfort of a bloodsucking jigger is tame compared to an empty rumbling belly in dusty forty degree heat; blistering sandak shoes are far more comfortable compared to tiny bare feet on blazing sand in landscapes teeming with scorpions, snakes, and thorns as tough as nails.
These kids don’t need laptops, they need a roof over their makeshift class. They don’t need roadshows, they need school feeding programs, they don’t need non-existent stadia, or fables about sovereign bonds, or yarns about togetherness and unity. It’s water they lack, clothes they don’t have, food they could do with, some shelter that would do them good. These kids just want a qualified teacher. The basics of starting out in education and life.
We need our leaders, if we can call them that, to understand this: we can’t keep our children in such conditions and then boast of percentages in growth while nibbling on croissants and sipping iced tea in air conditioned hotels in cities.
It is the children forgotten in such conditions, without hope and without a future, that we will tomorrow claim to not understand their choice (or lack of choice) in embracing radical strains of politics, extreme religious ideologies, and conversion to mercenaries for hire with little respect for the sanctity of life and human dignity, a dignity they’re denied now.
Wake up. The children are the future. Take care of them today and invest in future stability.