Educating for leadership and innovation.
We have a Swahili saying whose meaning is similar.
'Samaki mkunje angali mbichi'
'Fold fish while it's still raw'.
Growing up with ministers for parents I heard both the verse and such sayings quite a lot….often before, during or after disciplinary action. So, for the most part, I connected it to discipline and character building. Now that I am a little grown and see the world more from their perspective than I did then, I realise that there is so much more to 'training up a child' and that some of it is actually, quite overtly, named in the verse; 'train up'.
Education. Well, of the formal kind. What does it have to do with all this? Answer is 'everything!' Who trains up our children, when, where and how they are trained up...this goes to determine the way from which they shall not depart, how they locate themselves on this way, their ability to critically analyse the mechanics of this way in a world teeming with alternative ways, its relation to these alternative ways and, finally, their choice to not only not depart from it, but also contribute to it.
This wisdom forms a huge part of our rationale when it comes to educating our children at Tesifa Home. It has been deeply satisfying and validating to witness it actually work; to witness the kids blossom through it. It has only been about 3 years with Lusayo but we can, with much ease, map out his progress.
When his mother came to work with us Lusayo was five and had not gone to school yet. We enrolled him at a local church-based school in Kange. This started to introduce him to more structured play, interactions with other children and learning. While it was a step up from his previous reality, we wanted more. This was especially the case due to his age. As much as it is a private school, its standards were pretty close to public schools where the student to teacher ratio in Tanzania is around 1;165 (1:25 for private schools). For him to catch up with his peers, and experience learning in a more holistic manner, the decision was made to take him to a private missionary school in the area. He interviewed for a place in class one and we were told he was not ready. In the last 4 months of his 2 years at the church-based school, a tutor was assigned to him and when he interviewed again, he had improved enough to get a place in the pre-school class. Soon after, the tutor was withdrawn as clear improvements in his communication, grades and general excitement about school were noted. He spent a year in this school and at the end of last year graduated from pre-school with good grades and was one of the best students in his class.
As Lusayo’s journey unfolded, Tesifa Home came into form and he got new sisters and brothers. Based on his journey with education, we were determined to get them all the best education we could. After a decent amount of research we learnt of a private school that fit our criteria just about perfectly. A school where they not only learn from the teachers and books but also from the diversity of students they share their time and space with. One where their wellbeing is of primary importance and is expressed in how their classes and meals are set up, the approach to discipline, play and teacher-student interaction.
When he interviewed at this school to join class one, he did so with one of his new sisters, Irene. She had attended pre-school at the church-based school and had a tutor. He made it! However, we were advised to allow her to repeat the last class of pre-school. That already pointed to the difference in quality of education between the two schools. Of the 6 children we have, 5 have joined this school and in the first three weeks the changes are overt.
When I visited in December, Irene (the youngest of them) would not lock eyes with me, rarely smiled and was painfully shy. In the first week, I saw the first of many smiles and she started to look my way a little. Now, a month in, she and I hold conversations, and sweet heavens does she have a radiant laugh…..that we now can hear from across the road!! They get off the school van excited. Before changing schools, they would come home looking drained and out of it. The stuff they talk about now, one can tell their worldview is expanding and thinking of the contexts they come from, this is a BIG deal.
I recently learnt of the word, ‘shoshin’ which means ‘beginner’s mind’. It occured to me just then, that what we have been working to set up for the children is a way to cultivate this humility, curiosity, openness and eagerness towards learning; to nurture their 'shoshin'. That at the core of our service to them is rewriting the stories they have been exposed to so far. Education is one such story. To inspire leaders, innovators and visionaries where we might have, otherwise, had real potential disappear into the stories of their contexts is an honour beyond words. So, in real time, we get to train up these beautiful young ones in the way they should go. We pray, in action and love, that they shall not depart from it.
In raising these children, it becomes clear each day that it does, indeed, take a village. The Tesifa village could do with more resource, especially in regards to training up the children; in their education. It will be a blessing to hold hands with you as we surround them with love.
When that nudge to be part of this presses too hard to hold still, please reach out to Mark and Rachael at email@example.com and Mark or Rachael will get back to you.
Guest writer and first born of the home,