How to Create an Underclass: Kenya Style

Ember uniforms 3Kenya mandates that all children of school age must attend school.  That’s the good part. It also mandates that all children attending school must wear a school uniform. That’s the bad part. Since parents themselves must buy the uniforms for their growing children, those parents who can barely feed their children to say nothing of buying extras such as school uniforms get left out. Here is a typical account of what it looks like in rural Kenya, the area with which I am most familiar.

Dawn arrives and filters light into the doorway of a one-room mud hut awakening a grandmother who suddenly found herself raising the children of her daughter who died of Donn0607 (49)AIDS. She is old and stiff with arthritis, but she gets up and awakens three children, two of whom are school age. After a meager breakfast, she tells the two older children to get dressed and follow the other children from the scattered huts in the compound to the school several miles away.

It wasn’t supposed to be like this. In this culture, the elderly expect to be cared for by their children. But AIDS changed all that when it wiped out almost an entire generation of young adults, many of them parents Grandmother and babyof small children.  When these urban youngsters arrived suddenly on Grandmother’s doorstep, she had little choice but to accept them and do the best she could.

Still stunned from the loss of their parents, and their sudden move from the city to this place that they could never have imagined, the two children followed behind other children who knew where the school was. Faith stayed close to her older brother Tom. They felt tense and afraid. What if they got lost? There was nothing here but trees, bushes, and sometimes a narrow path to follow.  Finally, after almost two hours of walking, the Ember uniforms 5school came in sight. They were late, and children were already seated in the tiny school.

Tom and Faith had attended school in Nairobi, and both had been good students until this previous year when their lives were disrupted, first by the loss of their father, and then by the long illness and death of their mother. None of their aunts or uncles would take them in because of the stigma of AIDS in their family, so they had been sent to the country.

Most of the children in school wore the standard uniform of that school. JustEmber uniforms 2 before school ended for the day, the teacher announced that all children must wear their uniform to school. If they didn’t have one, they could not come back! It was the law. The uniforms that Tom and Faith were wearing were from their previous school and were not acceptable here.

When Tom and Faith returned to the compound where Grandmother’s hut was located, they found their little sister wandering around unsupervised. Their grandmother was nowhere to be found. They waited. Eventually
Grandmother appeared carrying a bucket of water from the creek a mile away. Earlier she had gathered potatoes and ground nuts for their evening meal. She had no money and no means to buy the needed school uniforms. If Tom and Faith went back to the school, they would be humiliated in front of the other children and told to leave. In some schools the Ember uniforms 6teachers will allow children without uniforms to stay, but these kids may be ridiculed by other students, and even if not, the children will feel as if they are less important than those who can afford the uniforms.

What is the fate of the hundreds of thousands of children in Kenya who cannot become educated due to lack of a uniform? They feel devalued, angry, and hostile toward those who are getting what they, too, have the right to be given. The boys grow up relegated to the lowest forms of employment if they can even find employment. The girls’ fate is even worse. If the grandparents die, the girls are on their own with no one to guide or protect them. They may marry at age twelve or thirteen, but more likely will be raped and forced into prostitution just to survive. Many are simply exploited and murdered.

How do I know this? Because I was there. Because I saw it happening. I was part of the Advisory Board that helped to begin the Ember Kenya Grandparents Empowerment Project in 2006. I went with a group to see the project in action in 2007, and we traveled deep into the countryside near the tiny town of Funyula in western Kenya to visit the grandparents and their children.

Kenya has many problems, but here is one that can fixed with changing the legislation so that school uniforms are not necessary, or change the funding so that the schools themselves are enabled to provide the uniforms for their students. Extreme poverty is growing in Kenya, and this one simple change will help in the long-run.

Kenya, wake up! Help ALL your people to become educated! 

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Summer’s Coming! Let’s Get TAN!!!

Now, most of my readers know that I’m a little ol’ lady living in an old folks home, but don’t count me out yet…in fact listen to your elders. They have had experiences that you can’t even guess at, and have seen things that you wouldn’t believe.

Take skin, for example. Many of my friends here at the home see their doctors with regularity to check on their skin, because of all the melanoma cancers that have appeared over the years and have needed removal.  My generation may be the one that began this love affair with the sun to get rid of what they imagined was a white pasty unattractive skin color, and now, in our older years, are paying the price for it.

I will admit, however, that when I discovered years & years ago that my pale Norwegian-American skin wouldn’t tan no matter how much I tried, I gave it up; I had better things to do than to lie in the boring sun.  Nowadays it’s different. There are roughly 14,000 tanning salons in the United States, and that’s where urban youth go to get a fast and even tan.

The greatest risk.

Young folks who actively pursue tanning have a 60% greater risk of melanoma than people who begin after age 35.

What triggered this topic here on this blog was a short article in the April 2005 issue of Scientific American warning of the dangers of tanning beds. Here is some of what I learned.

It’s girls, mostly, who feel the need to emulate their peers who value tan over white skin. One in five high-school-age girls have used a tanning bed in the past year. One in ten have used it at least ten times.

The tanning bed

Believe it or not, tanning beds can be addictive. Opiod endorphins are released while under the lights to make the user feel relaxed and feel so good that she wants to go back for more.

Radiation from a tanning device may be more intense than the sun’s own rays. Why would someone even consider using such a dangerous machine??? From my point of view, and knowing what happens to people who get too much ultraviolet radiation, I wouldn’t go near such a place. Some places are wising up.  Brazil has outlawed artificial tanning throughout the country, period. Nobody can promote or use such devices.

By the time a young person discovers a suspicious patch on her body, she had better hope that it's not too late.

By the time a young person discovers a suspicious patch on her body, she had better hope that it’s not too late.

And other countries such as England, Spain, Germany, and France no longer permit minors to use the tanning beds.

Being the “let’s not regulate anything” country, only 10 states in the United States have banned the use of tanning beds for minors even though the evidence of how dangerous they are is clear.


Melanoma spread

An undiagnosed and untreated melanoma will spread into other parts of the body

Here is a diagram of the creeping melanoma.  First, its a small patch on your skin. If left untreated, it silently expands deeper, then deeper still. By the time it grows large enough to enter your blood stream, you are in big trouble! Now to save your life, you must go through chemotherapy and all that nasty stuff.

Lovin' the sun

Even when a man has had several melanomas removed from his bald head, and his wife refuses to stop feeding her wrinkles with more rays from the sun, they just don’t get it….

Some people just never learn.  Even here at the home, I see people sitting on a bench in the garden outside with their faces turned up toward the sun.  Are they nuts? Their skin already looks like leather, and their wrinkles are so deep that they could hold a pencil. What once must have been a lovely face, now looks grotesque. Well, it’s their delusion, I guess.



Wrinkled woman

“I just can’t stop sunning myself. It feels so good, and I am soooo beautiful….

Young people may think that old folks don’t care about their looks anymore, but nothing could be further from the truth.  We dress nicely and try to stay up on the latest fashions for our generation. Someday, you will too, although my guess is that the styles that you wear now will pretty much be what you wear 50 years from now (if you don’t die of melanoma first).


So, take care of your skin. Toss out your self-perceived need to be tan. Trust me, you will be glad someday that you can’t hold a pencil in your wrinkles.

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