With all that’s going on around the world these days, it’s easy to doubt whether as a collective humanity we’ll be able to pull out of the various ruts we’ve dug ourselves into. From the vantage of leading nations' failing economies to the continued violence in countries that have yet to establish stable governments or triumph over dictators and warlords, the future often looks quite bleak. As individuals, we feel powerless to combat such massive forces, and as nations we have our hands full with our own problems. When the headlines get personal, I find it’s extremely important to seek perspective wherever we can, and often the greatest inspiration and reminder that all is not lost is found in a gathering of children - those who will either inherit the problems we fail to fix, or with the proper encouragement and investment will take it upon themselves to fix them.
I have visited Red Rose a couple times since arriving in Nairobi (though not nearly as frequently as I’d like to) and from my first visit I was struck by the absolute joy of the children I met. Attempting to make a foreign country your home can be challenging at times, and in my first weeks and months I was constantly made aware of just how much I had to learn about conducting life and simply getting around here. To join the children at Red Rose on a Friday morning, participate in their recreation time, spin circles and sing songs with them helped me take a step back from my need to understand my new home in all its complexity and struggle. For a morning I could simply indulge in the thrill of life that most adults capture infrequently at best, but which comes very easily to children whose synapses and neurons are still actively developing and connecting as they take in the world around them. I was also impressed with the layout and attitude of the school. Though it’s small and there are many children to serve, I didn’t observe the authoritarianism and over-strictness you sometimes see at schools where resources and funding are limited. I saw children being indulged in their natural inclinations and expressions as kids, and learners eager to tackle their studies and explore new things.
I learned about Red Rose from a friend of a friend after seeking a partner school for a penpal project some children in Orange County, CA wanted to start as part of a Ripple Kids effort. In the hopes of gaining international insight and making new friends, Lauren and Audrey Benedict and their respective classes compiled a set of letters for me to carry to Kenya, and I committed to find a school. A few exchanges of cards and pictures have since been shared, and the project is helping the kids in both places to better understand life in a foreign country, while at the same time identifying the common ground they share as children. In a recent exchange the kids from Red Rose utilized donated computers and cameras to compile picture books of the kids’ homes and neighborhoods, and the kids in Orange County loved them. Perhaps more importantly, they helped them to realize how much they have to be thankful for in their own lives – perspective that will no doubt help them grow into more conscious global citizens and leaders.
For those of us fortunate to have resources to share, it can be overwhelming to know how to best direct donations, gifts and social investments in order to promote the greatest benefit and change. Given the situation in Kenya, the U.S. and the world as a whole, ensuring our children are educated and inspired in their learning has to be considered an essential investment if we are to work our way out of the many challenges we face. Creating partnerships and raising children who understand the generosity of foreign nations, and conversely helping people to realize the importance of helping those abroad in sustainable ways can help rebuild faith in our common humanity, and eventually, ensure we have the resources and brain power across the globe to fix the economic, political and social issues that so concern us today.
Megan MacDonald is a Rotary Ambassadorial Scholar pursuing an M.A. in Development Studies at the University of Nairobi.