The students and teachers at a special needs project in Migwani, Kenya gave something intangible back to Karen Love.
The Lake Kathlyn teacher was part of a group of volunteers who travelled with Smithers-based Kenyan charity Child Focus Africa to help at a special needs dormitory that serves as a home and school for 80 children. She was granted a one-month leave by the school district to go this past October and November.
Personal space and boundaries are very different at the dorm in Migwani than they are in Love’s experience teaching in Canada.
“I think that makes me a warmer teacher to the students I work with at Lake Kathlyn School.
“I also have a lot of special needs kids at my own school, and I noticed when I came back that I always had my children kind of at bay — they sit there and I sit here. So when I’ve come back now, I have them closer to me.
“I want to emulate the teachers in Kenya that I learned from. They really love the children. I care for the children here in Canada that I work with, but in Kenya… they just have a much closer emotional and physical attachment,” explained Love.
Patience was another lesson learned by the teacher.
“I think that patience is something that school kids in my school now, and my own children, lack really significantly,” said Love, who admitted that she falls into the habit of wanting things right away as well.
Teaching in Migwani, Love was able to avoid the urge to run to each student in need by changing how they learned.
“What I learned in Kenya was I was allowed to sit and teach one child how to do something, and the rest of the children would watch me teach that child, without interrupting, being exceptionally respectful to that child,” said Love, explaining the observers would learn through the one child’s lesson.
The journey included a safari trip, photos of which Love said helped her connect more deeply with African students back home.
“I saw that little boy in my class light up like ‘you’ve seen a part of my world’,” said Love, who hopes to teach a better sense of community and appreciation to her other students at home.
“They’re all helping each other, and they all matter so much to each other. I’ve been trying to teach kids in my class, if you notice someone has trouble with something, instead of just backing away and making that child stand alone,let’s stand beside them and help,” said Love, adding Bulkley Valley teachers try to pass that on, but it was very evident in Kenya.
Love spent two weeks in Migwani. She was joined by, among others, a nurse from Prince George and Smithers’ Dr. Biz Bastion delivering medical aid. A ceramic Jiko cooking stove was also donated.
The other part of Love’s trip was the safari, which donates proceeds to the special needs project started up by local residents Jim and Judy Senka. The new second dormitory is named after Jim.
The safari and other African trips that benefit the project — including a climb of Mt. Kilimanjaro — are organized by locals Len and Irene Vanderstar. Len can be reached at email@example.com or by phone at 250-847-9729.