What you need to know:
- My contrasting experience: Who is going to the ‘small schools’ to tell the students their dreams are valid?
- It is our collective responsibility to give back to the community, to build a stronger younger generation.
I recently facilitated a career session in a middle-class high school in the leafy side of Nairobi.
By middle class I mean a ‘group of schools’ kind of institution, where students sign up for fancy activities such as robotics and improv clubs.
For context, I went to a regular high school somewhere in western Kenya. So an invitation to facilitate a career day at that school was also an invitation to peek into how school life looks like in the fabled “group of schools”.
The large driveways, an imposing and colourful auditorium, and the polite manner of the students who came to guide my friend Betty and me to the registration desk were the first things I noticed.
I was in high school about 12 years ago, and that is not how I remember things. In my former school, I doubt students would have been trusted with welcoming guests and walking with them, without a hawk-eyed teacher watching our every move.
At the registration, both Betty and I were mistaken for visiting students. We are both petite (I don’t have Betty’s permission to describe her as short but that is what we are. Petite and short with baby faces, Lol!) and without the effort I sometimes put in to apply lipstick, I totally understand why the students thought we were one of them.
As I listened to the keynote speaker, an experienced marketing professional, and looked around the auditorium, at the expectant faces of the students, I was contented that, together with two other media professionals, I was going to speak directly to some of these students, address their curiosity about the changing prospects of careers in media and, hopefully, give them a little more courage to pursue the dreams nestled in their teenage hearts.
The sessions carried on as I had expected – a few shy questions at the beginning but with students warming up and blasting us with questions as they became more comfortable with us.
We did the best we could to prepare them for the sometimes long but rewarding hours, and mostly spoke to them about emerging careers in media and the need to hone their storytelling skills through active participation in writing, journalism and debate clubs.
But this day reminded me of my prior career day experience. I previously volunteered for a non-profit organisation that staged career days in far-flung schools. Do you know schools where you arrive after going off the tarmac road for several kilometres?
My journey to these schools often started with me waking up at 4am. This way, I would have enough time to prepare and meet with other volunteers at the agreed spot before we set out for the school – far from Nairobi.
Volunteers included professionals from different fields, who put in money, often used their own cars, and invested their time and skills to inspire the students.
Unlike their counterparts from the ‘group of schools’, students from these schools mostly came from economically disadvantaged backgrounds and lacked exposure to many of the things we take for granted such as smartphones, and access to the now ubiquitous internet, books and newspapers.
Such schools often lacked networks, so they did not, for example, have high-flying alumni who could easily connect them to mentors and professionals to speak to their students.
This meant that the students hardly had any recognisable role models outside their locality, because few ventured out, so to speak. This was the reason this non-profit organisation was set up, to cater to schools that lacked internal resources to host a career day.
As I wound up the career day at the 'group of schools' on Saturday, I asked myself who is conducting career days in remote villages across Kenya. Who is going to the ‘small schools’ to tell students their dreams are valid?
It is our collective responsibility to give back to the community, to build a stronger younger generation, because, seriously, we cannot sit back and wait for them to turn up on social media posting nonsense, and complain that they do not have any traceable goals in life.
The writer is the research editor, NMG ([email protected]).