I am shamed. If you haven’t been here before you won’t know this but both Oddo’s and my offices are just steps from our junior classroom “taught” by former employee Redlais Makundi. I can no longer refer to her as a teacher after what she did. We discovered today, after one of our little ones (Malki), finally found the courage to come forward and show us the scars, new AND old, that Redlais inflicted. She has been torturing our children and I am ashamed to share that this has most likely been going on for the better part of a year, right under our noses and we didn’t know it.
Brothers Malki, and Swalehe, two of our day students carry the marks of her brutality, conveniently hidden beneath their uniform shirt sleeves. Scabs and bruises of varying ages cover their upper arms. This silent little boy, on the advice of his mother came forward to show us what was being done to him . . . in our own school . . . I have no words to express my shock, disgust and terrible disappointment first, in someone we believed to be a professional, but secondly in myself. You see I have had nagging doubts about this teacher and in hindsight there has been plenty to support that doubt. I just didn’t see it.
Liadi, many times last year would come into my office just minutes before class and then begin to cry. Things got so bad that on several occasions we had to drag him into the classroom while he pleaded with me to not make him go. He would cling to my skirt and beg me at least, to not leave my office until after class had finished but he couldn’t tell us why. Two of our older girls, on separate occasions wet their pants in the classroom but I thought they were struggling with UTIs. No one ever said anything. This “teacher” had threatened the children into silence. Children . . . students who should be able to attend class unafraid . . . We dismissed her this morning (I wanted her charged with assault but Oddo deferred) but the damage is done.
I have so many questions. How can a child learn when they are terrified of their teacher and learning environment? How can a child understand right from wrong when someone they should trust threatens them into deceit even at their own peril? Where does a child learn compassion, respect, dignity, for self and others if not in their home and school? And finally, where does their confidence to step up and TELL come from if their own guardians aren’t protecting them?There are so very many things becoming clearer suddenly. Why do some of our children just “act out”? Why are there sudden bursts of violence and insensitivity from our little people sometimes? Where does the selfishness come from? Where have they learned cruelty? We, here at Tumaini have been teaching them violence and showing them how powerless they are to stop it and I am ashamed.
This job is difficult at the best of times. The challenges of providing good care and what I thought was a safe environment for our little ones where they might reach and grow are many, and today I am reminded that, even WITH the best of intentions, it is so very easy to miss important signs, to be duped . . . and when a child(ren) is involved? I just don’t know . . .
We have met with our children and reminded them of their rights, of their voices and further reminded them that NO ONE has the right abuse them. No one has the right, even here where tooooooo often a child is thought of (or not at all) as little more than an animal to be kicked and abused by whomever is bigger. We see it all the time (we just thought we were better insulated from it here) and yet am I so naïve as to hope that there must be a way to protect a child? I was an abused child. I know what fear and insecurity feels like. Distrusting those who should be closest to us. I think it may be a part of what inspired me to establish Tumaini in the first place, and yet here we are . . . guardians to little ones we are incapable of guarding.
I have a meeting at school tomorrow over an issue of an unfair act bestowed upon one of our children by a teacher who doesn’t like us, (particularly me, for my “she lion” impression last year after Christina and Esther were beaten and I barged into the school roaring). I search for a way to communicate to this teacher (and others), about how corporal punishment just doesn’t work . . . but, experience tells me that once again my plea for an alternative will fall on deaf ears and only instill greater disdain for the children of this mzungu “mama” who must think she knows how to raise an African child better than an African . . . We don’t have all the answers but we are trying . . . And some days are stones.
On a more uplifting note, end of month exam results are coming in. At Tumaini, Liadi was first in his class followed by Karol and I fear I need to purchase a chocolate factory . . . I promised a Kit Kat bar to each child for their best performance and we have a TON of 90+%. Hadija got 100% in Kiswahili! English is strong, math is coming and all of these children are strong because of Teacher Winner who has taught them from the beginning here at Tumaini AND SHE DOESN’T BEAT HER STUDENTS!