It was April of this year when Bridging the Gap Africa was visiting a primary school in Central Pokot, a remote region in Kenya where a bridge had to be removed several years ago due to erosion of the river banks. The head school master explained to us that the day after the bridge was removed 230 students where immediately separated from their local primary school. We were told how some of the older primary students continued to talk to school by adding a detour consisting of a three (3) walk to get to a location upstream where the students could safely cross the river. There were also several teachers that lived on the ‘far side’ of the river that were required to walk this long detour to continue their role as educators for the children in their community. We are pleased to note that a bridge has now been reconstructed for this community in Central Pokot, but there are several other schools in rural Kenya that require footbridges to provide safe and reliable year-round access to education.
When Anna Lucas heard how a simple footbridge has a profound social impact by enabling education in rural Kenya she immediately wanted to help raise funds and awareness for this cause. Anna shares how educators at Sheppard Public School in Kitchener, Canada, care about education for all children.
In the words of Nelson Mandela, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” As a group of educators that message resonates deeply with us and it is the impetus behind our river crossing to support Bridging the Gap Africa’s “Be a Bridge” fundraiser. We believe passionately that ALL children have a right to the basic education they need to become empowered adults who can support their families and help lift their communities out of poverty.
It is a right that is easy for us in Canada to take for granted (although it is worth noting that it is not a right that many Indigenous communities in our country would take for granted). We have the privilege of receiving students at school each day who are safely delivered by school bus, by cars, or by walking along relatively safe streets. As educators, we have the luxury of safe passage to school in order to teach our students. It is hard for us to imagine living in a community where our students’ journey or an educator’s journey to school might put their lives at risk. Can you imagine the risk of animal attacks or drowning in order to access a basic right - the right to an education.
While we obviously could not replicate the challenges and danger that many students and educators confront in their journeys to school, crossing the Grand River in Kitchener, Ontario, and then making the 6km trek to school was an important symbolic gesture for us.
Our goals were manyfold:
- to put ourselves in the shoes of others (in a very diminished way as we knew this would be a safe crossing for us and one that was undertaken by choice, not necessity);
- to raise money for and awareness of this important issue;
- lastly, to model for our students the words of Mahatma Ghandi, “be the change you wish to see in the world.”
So with these goals in our hearts, we met in the pre-dawn hours to begin our trek across the Grand River. It was necessary for us to meet before the sun had risen in order to reach school in time. With our home-made signs in hand, advertising Bridging the Gap Africa and the Kakenya Centre for Excellence, we joined hands as a sign of unity for this cause and stepped into the river. We were very lucky that in early October the water was still quite warm. We were also lucky that the fall crossing meant that the waters were at a low level.
I once accompanied my son to this river in the spring in order to fly fish and we experienced firsthand how easily the strong current can overpower a child. Luckily, he had an adult on hand to support him when he was suddenly overpowered by the fast moving waters - we never made that mistake again! A child having to face a strong current to access school is quite a different situation to a child crossing the river for recreational fishing with the safe protection of a parent. Even with the lower water levels, we experienced a deceptively strong current in the middle of the river. We were only at thigh high level yet the current, at one point, presented us with a challenge. We simply could not imagine a young child having to face this current as part of their journey to school. We simply could not imagine our own dear students having to experience this as part of their daily life.
As we emerged from the river on the other side we huddled in a circle to take a moment to reflect on the experience of children who face perils far, far greater than we had experienced or could imagine experiencing. With signs in hand, and chants of “education for all” and “build that bridge”, we embarked upon our 6km walk to school. We were inspired by all the honks from passing cars and we even received a donation en route!
We will now be using the experience of our river crossing to inspire our school community to engage in awareness raising and fundraising initiatives for Bridging the Gap Africa. We know they will embrace this cause with the same compassion and generosity that is characteristic of our amazing school community. We just can’t wait to get started! While we feel our river crossing and walk has made a worthwhile contribution to BtGA, the truth is, we received far more by being part of this endeavor that we can ever give. We were all so moved and inspired by this experience and it has created a deep bond between us “river walkers” that enriches both our school life and our personal life. We thank BtGA for the the privilege of participating in this incredible initiative.
To watch news coverage of our Educators’ Walk follow this link http://kitchener.ctvnews.ca/video?clipId=967434
To sponsor us, please select “Educators’ Walk” in the “Donate” link and help us keep working towards that goal of education for all! Thank you!
Anna Lucas, Teacher at Sheppard Public School, Kitchener, Canada
Will you BE A BRIDGE today by making a donation to promotes education for children in Kenya?