This day two years ago, changed the course of my life!!! I had quietly told a friend in February of 2015, I wanted to go back to school and get my PhD. I researched schools and George Mason had a program in Early Childhood Education/Early Childhood Special Education. Exactly what I wanted to study. However, the deadline for applications had been a few days before, on February 1st and the school would not be accepting applications again until September. So, I put that thought in the back of my mind.
In the month that passed, I found new projects and came up with a million reasons why I should not go back to school, one of which was business and money. How would KinderJam continue to thrive, if I was in school? As a newly single woman, money was something I had to think about for the first time in over a decade. I quietly decided that this was not the time to go back to school and instead focused on growing KinderJam.
Then, I went to Africa. When I arrived, my mind was in full vacation mode. I was free and in Africa. The next day, I was going to visit a school and take books to young children. I was completely in my element.
That night, some friends and I loaded into a van and headed to dinner. The mood was high. I was sitting in the front seat of the van with my window rolled down...laughing and dancing to the music on the radio with my cell phone in my hand. In an instant, someone ran by the van, reached in the window, removed my phone from my hand and continued to run across the highway and into the brush.
I was stunned. I said, "He took my phone." The mood in van shifted immediately. I went inside my head to try to process what happened. My phone was gone...but I wasn't concerned about that. I had a backup in the hotel room and insurance for a new one once I returned to the states. What struck me, however, was how impersonal the act was. It wasn't about me. This young man ran by and took the phone out of my hand and he never even touched my hand during the exchange. We never made eye contact. We never exchanged a word. I felt violated but I didn't feel in danger. I recognized extreme poverty and my overpriced phone was a means of survival for someone. I was okay...for now.
Then I woke up the next morning in a panic. While I had been calm the night before, the next morning I woke up thinking..."I'm somebody's mom. I have to be safe. My child needs a mother. What am I about walk into?" We had been warned about crime in the Kibera Slum, the location of the school we were visiting, but I had not taken the warning seriously. That morning, I did. And after months of planning, I didn't want to go. I was afraid.
After expressing my concerns to two other travelers and my belief that walking through the Kibera Slum with computers and resources would make us a target, they put my mind at ease. We would be traveling through the slum with armed guards to our front, sides, and rear and we were FAMUans going to do God's work. I was still afraid but I felt it was something I had to do.
We arrived at the Kibera Slum and we unloaded and prepared to make the hike to the school. We followed the safety precautions and as I gave instructions, my mood was somber. As we walked through the makeshift village, I was stunned. I had seen extreme poverty like this before in Thailand and China during my travels when I was a young woman. However, now I am a mother and the curious little brown babies I saw walking barefoot in open sewage looked like my brown baby back home and my heart ached. While my heart was in disbelief of the condition...my mind was concerned about my safety and the safety of the 70 plus people we had convinced to participate in this community service project. I just wanted to get everyone safely within the gates of the school.
When we arrived, my spirit was transformed. As an educator, there is no greater place of hope than a classroom with young children ready to learn and that is what I found within the walls of the Cheery Centre. Then to my surprise, the babies planned a program for us...with singing, dancing, poems, and skits. One skit in particular moved me to tears. The boys were on one side and the girls were on the other. The boys were telling the girls they must stay home and tend to the house. School is no place for girls. The girls responded by saying, "No...we must get our education and be great." Those babies ministered to me. I was so proud and filled by being in their space.
Later that evening back at the hotel, we had a mixer with an entrepreneur organization from Nairobi. During the mixer, I had the opportunity to record an interview with the Vice President of the organization. She spoke of education and opportunity and described the US as a diamond. The bottom tip is extreme poverty and top tip is extreme wealth. The center, wide portion is the middle class. She went on to explain, the opportunity for 13 years of free education, gives people in the US the opportunity to move from the place they're born in the diamond to a higher place in the diamond. Additionally, the abundance of higher education opportunities we have in the US allows someone to work from the bottom of the diamond to the top or near top of the diamond...The American Dream.
In contrast, she explained that Kenya is like a triangle. The wide base is extreme poverty and the top tip is extreme wealth. However unlike the US, there is limited access to education and opportunity to rise from the place in the triangle where you are born to a higher place within the triangle. She further explained that the opportunity is almost nonexistent for girls...which, as she noted, is to the detriment of the country because children are educated through their mothers. POW!! Her final thought was what a gift the US has given to give every child an opportunity for 13 years of free education and the opportunity to move within the diamond.
After that conversation, the thought of a PhD came to the front of my brain again. In the US, a little girl from Kmart Housing Project in Ocala, FL could be Dr. El Brown. The next day, I said it out loud and I haven't looked back since... ❤️ #IGotThis