As i drive through the Jimmy Junior Academy School grounds, i am surprised at the unusual silence. I alight and see madam Millicent Mbero coming to receive me. I immediately apologize for being on my trademark Kenyan time and proceed to the church hall where her students and their parents are waiting.
Today is school uniform distribution day and I have come to deliver 20 new uniforms to the students here. The looks on their faces as i enter the hall with a bag full of new uniforms is priceless! Without further ado, Millicent and the parents start distributing the new uniforms. I stand aside and let them do their work, taking it all in. The events that follow are forever etched in my memory.
As each parent helps her child to put on the new uniform, the atmosphere immediately changes. All the children break into big smiles and start admiring themselves. Their parents are in high spirits too and can be seen doing their best to make them look as impeccably dressed as they possibly could including dusting off any iota of dust from their children's pullovers and tying their shoelaces.
I have met these children before. I wouldn't say they are not happy. Kids everywhere are always kids. They will always be happy and find time and ways to play , run around and smile or laugh with each other no matter their economic situations or backgrounds.
But today, it is different. The happiness here is palpable!
As the students file out in their immaculate uniforms, I cant help noticing one girl dressed in a boy's uniform. It was not the boy's uniform she wore that drew my attention. Neither was it her plaited hair. Her demeanor said it all. She LOVED it! I stood standstill, watching this little girl. Hands in her pocket and grinning ear to ear, she walked majestically towards me with the rest of the students before posing for a group photo.
It didn't matter to Casey if she was in a boy's outfit. All she cared about was that everyone was in a new uniform and she was one of them. The uniforms gave them an identity and she felt they were in this together. To her, they all looked the same and worrying about being in a boy's uniform wasn't important.
Casey Achieng: uniforms were made for 20 students, one student who has been absent for so long and whose measurements were not taken by the tailor showed up and took her uniform. Fortunately, the tailor made an extra uniform (boy's) with the left over fabric and Casey was happy to put it on awaiting delivery of her dress
These students have myriad reasons to smile today. Their teacher Millicent recently received a grant from the Pollination project to build 2 new classrooms and give them an opportunity to study in a safe environment. Hardly a day after construction of the new classrooms began, the wall of the church they have been using as a classroom collapsed. It was too old and risky for the little kids and this funding couldn't have come at a better time.
Looking back, Millicent has come a long way with this school and the children she supports. She didn't have any resources when she decided she wanted to create change in her community. The training she had received as an early childhood education teacher was all she needed to start. Even the dilapidated church structure she uses as classrooms for her students did not deter her from starting her school. This is how women work. When they set their minds on doing something they believe in, they will do it. And with all their hearts, souls and strength they invest in it. The magic that results from this investment creates great transformation in communities for generations.
For close to 3 years, she has diligently worked to provide good education to these children. Even when there was only one student at the start, she still came to school to teach. She didn't quit because students weren't coming for lack of decent classrooms or other teachers to support her. She knew that all she needed to do was to start. The resources would follow. It didn't matter how long it would take. A woman's instinct is never wrong, they say.
As i take these beautiful photos and see the big smiles on their faces, my heart is filled with immense joy. I take one final look at Casey in her "odd" uniform, and them at the rest of the children. With each smile, i can't help loving the aura of self-confidence they exude; confidence to stand up and answer questions in class without being laughed at because your uniform is torn, confidence to walk slowly and admire themselves without worrying who is looking at their torn uniform, confidence to play with their friends without worrying that their torn clothes would get caught on something and tear beyond repair, confidence that they are capable and can achieve their dreams.
Today, they all belong to the same school. They can identify with it. Today, no one can judge them based on their backgrounds.. They are all in the same uniform that brings them all to the same level; students of Jimmy Junior Academy.
And today, Millicent is living her dream of creating access to education for these children because she didn't let lack of resources stand on her way to create change in her community. This is how women do it. And this is why maendeleo hub connects them with the resources to leverage this change and make even greater impact working in collaboration with grassroots women.
Many thanks to @Pollination Project and @TailoredForEducation for building classrooms and providing school uniforms for students of Jimmy Junior Academy.
By David Omondi, Co-founder/Program & Fund Development Manager
Riley Orton Foundation