© Victor Ochieng’
At the front-end of last week, I had an animated conversation on phone with a certain charitable Chaplain of a girls’ school in Nairobi. We basically buttressed our discussion on useful psycho-social and spiritual programmes that should lead the queue in schools. In the process, we digressed a bit and focused on the plight of needy students, which forms the central plank of this piece. Our critical concern was on the notion attached to some of our altruistic efforts. There are plenty of people who are willing to help needy students. The only challenge is that they talk of helping only those who are needy, but bright. In my own optics, when we wend that way, then it means we are getting it all wrong in our philanthropic efforts.
Firstly, as we all know, our secondary schools have needy students, who actually should be assisted to defray school fees, get personal effects, and acquire academic tools or materials. As someone who grew up as a total orphan, brought up by grandparents who were financially-famished, I know what Orphaned and Vulnerable Children (OVCs) go through. It is a hellish life, riddled with chilling challenges. In some cases, there are philanthropic people who come out to express their altruistic and empathetic side, but the only problem is that they have strings attached to such forms of love and largesse.
Somehow, I feel for the OVCs when those who are ready to give hope and help insist that they can only do so to children who are needy, but bright. As someone who is at home with values of Christianity and teachings in disciplines like Psychology and Sociology, I look at such scenarios, and I feel that sometimes we pile unnecessary stress on people who need help.
Maybe, to substantiate it, the Judeo-Christian heritage does not teach us to express mercy and magnanimity only to the needy and bright. The last time I checked the sacred scriptures in James 1:27, I saw our brother in the Lord directing us that we should focus on religion that is both pure and pristine by propping up orphans and widows. His pen postulates with crystalline clarity: “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this; to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.”
Again, those who focus on assisting children who are only needy but bright; should have some intimate intellectual intercourse with basic facts in Psychology. In that sphere of knowledge, there is something taught in relation to intelligence. Psychological pundits say, someone’s intelligence, solely relies on nature (heredity) and nurture (environment). Going by the former, parental genes have an impact on a child’s intelligence. To abut it on the latter, the environment also contributes to one’s intelligence to a great extent.
In retrospect, I am not saying that children who are needy should settle for less by punching below the academic expectations. Effort in direly needed. Why? Because on my side, to all the students I support in one way or the other, I make them understand that there is no way their education can be bankrolled by well-wishers then they just go to school to split hairs by doing a lot of nothing.
Over and above, there is also something all of us should strive to understand about OVCs: Apart from educational support, such calibre of children are weak on diverse dimensions of this material life. My proposition is that they need a serious support system to prop them up because some of them are weighed down by insurmountable problems.
If I can have a rehash of my own hellish experiences in high school, being a needy boy studying in a decimal day secondary school, sometimes I missed evening meals. The following day, I would trek for close to four kilometres to school on an empty stomach. I used to rely on the tea prepared in school which was served at 10:00 AM. I sipped the tea without any escort because I was cash-starved. Son of the Lake only owned money in theory. So, even when those who were paying my fee piled a lot of pressure on me, some of them knew nothing about my miseries and misfortunes which sometimes dented my academic performance.
Therefore, methinks it is utterly wrong to insist that you can only assist children who are needy, but bright. It is like saying that God Almighty should extend His grace (unmerited favour) to those who are only righteous in his sacred sight. If our Deity chooses to treat mere mortals in that manner, then sinners like you and I will have it rough.
Finally, in my own optics, I have a feeling that that philanthropic people who are paying fee for needy children should ape what Wings to Fly is doing in support for needy children. When schools are closed, they organise mentorship, career and life skills programmes for such children. They also visit them in school and discuss their academic performance with the concerned teachers.
The writer rolls out talks and training services in schools.
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