In Kibera, known as Africa’s largest slum, life is hard. Concrete squares, barely 12 wide, are called home, and electricity, running water and toilets don’t exist. Nearly 2 million residents jam its steep hillsides, a place where every decision centers on survival.
Located in the heart of Nairobi, Kibera is where we trained our first grandmothers three years ago, and it is where those same grandmothers requested that we help them open a preschool – they said a preschool would help their own families as well as the families of many other grandmothers and mothers in Kibera.
“Other women here see how our lives are better,” the grandmothers told me. “They want what we have. All of us need a good place to put our little ones. We need them to be educated so they can have a different future. With a preschool, all of the grandmothers and mothers can work longer and make more money.”
We agreed, and in 2009 our first preschool opened in the Kibera slums. Our grandmothers earn extra income from TNP to work at the preschools one week per month. They assist the teachers and prepare hot porridge in the mornings and hot lunches mid-day.
And the interaction between the young students and the grandmothers is beyond anything we could have imagined two years ago.
During our visit to Kibera last summer, we saw what hope can do in the midst of struggle.
The Nyanya Project’s first preschool – the Nyanya Toto Preschool Center– now has close to 50 students, and over the last two years, all of its small graduates, approximately 30 students, have matriculated straight into public, primary schools. Thanks to Teacher Elizabeth, these children speak almost fluent English, read and know arithmetic – and – they are teaching the grandmothers who work there how to read and speak English!
“Not only do they teach us how to speak English,” said Eunice Ombima, one of our grandmothers, “they correct us! They come home at night and tell us ‘That is not how you say that word.’”
On most days, after the grandmothers finish cleaning the lunchtime dishes, you can see them seated in one of the small chairs in the center’s main classroom. Youngsters in their brown checked shirts and dresses gather around them to show the grandmothers what a certain word means. They point out the simple words printed in English, and the grandmothers beam.
In countries where intense poverty rules decisions, girl children are the first to be pulled from school to help back at the home or on the farm. This means that in Kenya today, two-thirds of the millions of illiterate Kenyans are women and girls. All but one of TNP grandmothers in Kenya is illiterate.
For these women, that reality is now changing. Even at older ages, TNP grandmothers are reversing the trend and younger generations are seeing a future of possibilities unknown to the women who care for them.