As part of a new “get to know us” series, We recently sat down with Sarah Roberts, a dear friend and one of the educational coordinators for Retouch. Sarah volunteers with Retouch, coordinating literacy programs, and lower primary teacher training. She is passionate about reading and spear-headed a new library at our Mtwapa primary school. When she’s not out galavanting around the world, you’ll find Sarah teaching 2nd grade, eating fine cheese or being the general life of the party.
Q. When did you first want to be a teacher?
Sarah: Being a teacher was the LAST thing I wanted to do. Some days I just laugh when I get introduced as a teacher! It was below being being a dish washer and cleaning up road kill. However, when I look back at my life I see the desire to teach was woven in my every move. Throughout high school, it was my intent to go to medical school. I took every medical class I could and was bound and determined to make that my life’s work. As with most things that we think we control- the heart might be there but it usually looks different than the label we want to put on it. At my core I want to work with people in a tangible way that leads to Jesus and I prayed that it my life reflected that. After a series of what I think are divine circumstances in the most unlikely places I decided to change the university I planned on going to and my major. I had never felt more confidence or peace in my decision to pursue education, and that has only grown over the years as a teacher.
Q. Who is your biggest influence and how are they affecting the person you are today?
Sarah: Educationally, my biggest influence is my AP English teacher Mrs. Virginia Riley. To this day I email her for book lists and go see her and her family when I am in town. Mrs. Riley is a brilliant lifelong learner and feisty about doing what’s best for students. She made me the learner I am today. By made I mean she would tear our paper to shreds and out of the ashes we would find the true meaning of text. She showed us over and over through our classes that our reading and writing has to connect to something bigger than what lies on the page. Besides writing, reading, and analyzing, she had us create life lists that she sent to us 5 years after we graduated. What’s funny to me is that the things that I thought I would accomplish first—- marriage, children, owning a home, going to the Caribbean have hit the sidelines to working with Sudanese refugees, seeing miracles, riding a camel in front of the Great Pyramids of Giza, getting a masters, not having a large bank account, and doing a jig in an Irish pub. Literacy put into practice brings freedom and exceeds the far-reaching dreams we have for ourselves.
Q. Regarding your work with Retouch, what are you most excited about?
Sarah: When I think about ‘working’ with Retouch nothing but excitement and possibility enter my mind. It makes the prayers of my past and desires of my heart real. It’s the best adventure I’ve been on to date and one I can’t wait to see grow, develop, take root, and multiply! Honestly, just give me some time to sit anywhere with some books, paper, the kids and we’ll be just fine!
Q. What can people expect to see from your work in Kenya?
Sarah: I don’t know what to expect out of Kenya!!! Every time I set foot on that soil I am humbled by what God wants to do there. I don’t do anything half, but I am learning that there is little to do with me in this line of work. I’ve had the privilege of seeing what happens when an idea opens up and becomes bigger than your dreams. So many connected hands have made the incredible things we are seeing in Kenya possible. Small miracles make big miracles. Soccer teams, chalkboards, and libraries are just the beginning. I hope people see Jesus in everything we do.
Q. In your classroom in Franklin, there are books EVERYWHERE. Why do you stress reading for your kids?
Sarah: Books in the hands of students brings infinite possibilities. Books don’t pressure you- I haven’t one talk back to me yet. It’s up to the reader to decide how to respond to it’s pages. Books inspire curiosity and are the private tutors that keep teaching and leaves room for possibility and interaction for the students long after I’m gone. Books are our silent allies, advocates, comforters, friends, mentors, professors, and counselors. They are always ready to be used and are flexible with our schedules and needs. Literacy brings freedom and I am always eager to see what they do with it.
Q. What’s their favorite book? Why do you think they like it so much?
Sarah: My students’ favorite book could be dependent on the day, the weather, or what they had at lunch. Their favorite books are always ones that they connect to (that’s where the teacher’s job becomes fun and real). Reading without meaning isn’t reading, it’s decoding. I find that kids (and adults) love books that make them think or escape. Authors and illustrators like Oliver Jeffers, Steve Jenkins, and Mo Willems are classroom favorites. Literature that has in their words, “actually happened” or are “real” immediately become enticing like Marcel Marceau, Breaking Stalin’s Nose, The One and Only Ivan, and Soldier Bear. Plus you always have to have a few on hand to just make them laugh like The Book with No Pictures and the Elephant and Piggie series. I am constantly looking for rich literature to use in the classroom because it makes my job easier and their learning so much deeper! The more they connect the more they read.
Q. Is there anything else you want our readers to know?
Sarah: Besides eating snacks, working with Retouch has been the sweetest and best thing I have done in life to date. We aren’t special or anything fancy. We are, however, people who love Jesus wholeheartedly and want to live our lives for Him fully- whatever that looks like. Partner with us. What you might deem as small becomes much bigger when you allow what you have to be used by Jesus for His people.
To find out more about Sarah and the work she’s doing in Kenya, you can contact her at Sarah@retouch.is