Understanding the life of a rural poor child


Jack, 14 years, is a class 7 pupil at the Nyantush primary school in Kisii district in Nyanza province. Like all the village children, an education is all he has as a means to transform his future and that of his family. Born in a family of two boys and one girl, Jack is the oldest of his siblings who are aged seven and ten. His mother is a young single lady who lives with her aging parents. She currently does not have a stable job and relies on casual jobs that are not quite guaranteeing. Needless to say, the meagre wages from her odd jobs are hardly adequate to sustain the entire family. Jack’s grandmother has a few banana plants from which she is able to get a few bananas which she sells by the roadside next to their home. His grandfather is frail and sickly and therefore spends all his time basking in the sun. Thanks to the free primary education, Jack is able to attend classes despite the financial constraints at home.
Being the first born, the young boy bears the bulk of the responsibility involving the household chores. Without the luxury of an alarm clock, the young mind has been programmed to arise at the break of dawn in readiness for the day. 5 AM is the usual wake up time for the young boy. He is usually the first to wake after his mother who has to prepare their breakfast before setting out in search of a job. His first stop is the kitchen where he warms water to milk their only cow. He has to make a fire using dry leaves and firewood. He uses embers from the previous night to ensure that there is no wastage of matchsticks. Sometimes, during the rainy season, dry firewood and leaves are not easy to come by and it takes him a lot more time to accomplish this. The fact that there is no electricity in his home does not help either. He uses a tin lamp which more often than not has run out of kerosene. He has therefore learnt how to gobble his way around in the dark to carry out his tasks. On milking the cow, he feeds their two goats and ensures that the cow has enough fodder for the day. He takes breakfast which is usually a cup of sugarless tea with the least hint of milk and an occasional sweet potato when his grandma has made a major sale of bananas. On other days, he takes the previous night’s left-overs if there are any which is barely ever the case anyway. A quick cold shower just before six freshens him up and he sets out for school which is about one hour away.
Armed with an old tattered paper bag that serves as his school bag, he lets not the biting morning cold deter him from achieving his goal. It is all evident that nothing will stop him from being who he wants to be in future. The fact that his shorts are all patched up to a point that the original colour is barely noticeable, his torn faded shirt or his old sweater do not dull his spirits as he struts to school knowing that a better future awaits. The old slippers on his feet act as minimal protection from the rough terrain as he walks on the barely lit and forested paths to school. He therefore suffers the chill of the cold dew that is part of his everyday walk, but again, full of hope. He gets to school at 7 am rather than the official 8 o’clock with the aim to have personal study time or complete his assignments before classes commence. Sometimes, the poor boy is usually too tired to keep awake. It often happens that he has to take a one hour nap instead of reading.
Classes for him are particularly demanding and it certainly takes him a lot of will power to concentrate and keep awake. Determined to excel, Jack has chosen one of the front desk as his personalized space as if to get first hand information from his teachers. Time almost always seems to move very slowly for him and is usually yearning for his one hour lunch break when he is able to catch some sleep after taking the almost unpalatable meal provided by the school. For this, all senior students (level seven and eight) are required to work in the school farm for two-one hour shifts per week. This is usually done after classes at four o’clock. On such days, this means that he is only able to get home at 6pm.
On getting home, Jack fetches two twenty litre ‘mitungi’ of water about a kilometer away using a wheel-barrow. He then sets out to their farm where he gathers fodder for the cow and goats. It is not until seven when he is able to sit and do his school assignments using a smoky tin lamp before having supper and retiring to bed. In the occurrence that there is no kerosene, he is forced to sit close to the fire place where he tries to read.
Weekends for Jack mean work as opposed to rest as would be expected for a young boy. On Saturdays, he accompanies his mother on her job hunting mission. On lucky days, they are able to make about 200 Kenyan shillings which is quite some amount for them. Sunday for him is the only day that he gets to rest after attending his church service.
Life for Jack is a vicious cycle that he has to live by as he hopes that someday, an opening to a good high school – to him synonymous with a good education and gradually to a technical college where he aspires to study a motor vehicle mechanic course, will be possible. He admits that it is not easy as he has to struggle each day to maintain a sane balance between his studies and responsibilities at home. He terms his education as very crucial as he wants to provide a better life for his siblings and his mother. It is not easy but armed with hope, discipline and hard work, his goals are set high and to him they are clearly achievable.

• Jack will, next year, do the national examination. The same examination for all at his level across the country.
• Jack represents many rural children situation
• Jack will be competing with other well placed and supported kids in urban dwelling (will have another story to compare soon)
• Jack has never touched a computer, the closest he has come to technology is occasionally charging her mothers mobile phone
• Low cost technologies can and should significantly improve Jack’s chances of excelling in his school work… Lets get to work on HOW.

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