“Wake up Jack”, he begins to stir “you’re going to be late!” Awake now, he crawls out of bed footie pajamas sliding across the carpet and onto the cool tile of the bathroom. “Something is different about today,” he thinks to himself as he grabs his toothbrush and begins the day, “I know it.
It took a few minutes for the daze of the morning to lift and the thoughts of the day to become clear. He suddenly remembered, “We’re making chalkboards!” he exclaimed. These weren’t just any chalkboards; these were those chalkboards, the ones for those kids in Kenya.
Second grade is fun for Jack. He gets to read adventure books and play with his friends; he likes his class and loves his teacher Ms. Sarah. She’s the one who told him about the kids in Kenya.
Ever since he heard about kids with no books or shoes or soccer balls, he’s wanted to help them. For Christmas he saved his money and bought uniforms for their soccer team, he was so proud. Sandwich bags full of quarters and crumpled cash, he had saved and saved, ignoring the pleas for ice cream and candy, all to do something nice for someone else.
And today again, an opportunity comes. Today he gets to do it again and this time with the whole school. Chalkboards. What a funny thing for a kid to make.
Her eyes open with the morning sun, staring up from her mat the holes in the roof are glaring. “I have to fix that,” she thought, “before the rains come.” Her bare feet hit the cool sandy soil and carry her outside into the already humid day. Jerry can in hand, she makes her way to the water house, it’s not far just a few huts down. It used to be farther and then they put in the water house.
“Today is a good day,” Janet thought “it’s the first day of school” as a smile broke out across her face. She has washed her uniform the night before, scrubbed it with her little hands and hung it on the fence to dry. “I’m going to learn today, I can’t be late.”
She hurries along to bring the water home for morning washing and afternoon tea. She quickly brushes her glistening white teeth with a piece of twig, dons her uniform and heads off to school.
Janet loves her school. She’s the first person in her family to attend and she’s as happy as a clam. She loves the 4th grade, they’re learning about geography and times-tables. She’s getting pretty good at math, her teacher thinks she’ll be a businesswoman.
She only recently got books, and shoes, and school supplies. Some people she never met bought them for her. Unloading her backpack is like watching Mary Poppins; it’s amazing what an 8 year old can carry. Pencils and erasers, notebooks and rulers, everything is precious. “Everything is here,” she says out loud, she knows to carefully account for these gifts, not everyone has them.
It was a few months ago that Ms. Sarah came back from Africa and told them about the children. “Do you think we can help them?” she asked. “YES!” they enthusiastically replied as ideas began to fly around the room. They first suggested a class trip but quickly decided that was out of the question. “What could we do?” they asked one another, “what do they need Ms. Sarah?”
They gazed around the room, pausing on every item and piece of furniture. “Do they have these?” they asked about nearly everything, as the reality of another world set in. A world that lacks basic, every day, classroom materials. What could we give them? The answer flooded in, “books” they agreed, “We can give them books.”
And books they gave.
Boxes of books. Books they read and read again, memorizing in their 2nd grade brain. Books they loved and wanted to share, stories of grumpy pigeons and clickty-clack moos. But books were not enough for this little crew. They wanted to do more. Some made cookies and sold them, others asked around and some, like Jack scrimped and saved.
“What is the capital of Kenya?” asks Mr. Moji as the students furiously write on their miniature chalkboards. In a flash they’ve written their answers and held them up, with a darting glance Mr. Moji can see who is keeping up. Little brown fingers covered in chalk dust await the contagious smile of approval for their answers. Before the chalkboards came they worked alone, silently writing their answers on precious, limited notebook paper. But now? Now they work together, Janet and her classmates talk and laugh, correct and question, all in an attempt to hold up their best work. It’s like a classroom full of little teachers.
The idea for little chalkboards came from Ms. Sarah, her own students use dry erase boards as a sort of quick response and group discussion. She organized some parents, teachers and coaches who all bought in. One parent went to Home Depot and convinced them to donate supplies, the art teacher organized the painting process and the coaches did the coaching. It was all hands on deck as the local boy scouts cut and sanded boards; the service club wore aprons and painted the chalk paint. The principal came, teachers stayed late and moms kept the paint coming. Everyone worked together, came together, and in turn, created something beautiful.
Everyone is looking for an opportunity; A chance to wake up in their footy pajamas and create something beautiful for themselves and for another. Chalkboards were a medium for giving and service and now they’re a platform for shared learning. When people come together, combining their shared experiences, talents and abilities things happen. Kids become servants and givers, parents become organizers and stakeholders, and teachers get to relish in the world classroom.
And the kids in Kenya?
They get the greatest gift.
Education with one another.