Thought leader

What One Student Can Teach Us

Guest article by Leila de Bruyne, co-founder and executive director of Flying Kites

Maryann is in eighth grade at Flying Kites Leadership Academy; she’s a strong student. She used to speak without moving her eyes from the ground, but now she seems to be testing out a bolder personality. Recently, we walked together for a visit to her home. The sun was starting to set and it was getting cold. Maryann put her hand in mine and we chatted about her friends.

Inside the house, I sat with her mother by the fire to get warm. The solar light that Maryann’s teacher gave her to complete her homework at night sat on a wooden stool in the center of the room, the only source of light, except for a few rays coming in through holes in the roof. Despite this abject poverty, Maryann’s parents have done everything they can to help their children succeed in school and her mother was eager to hear my impression of her daughter’s academic performance.

I asked Maryann if I could see her bedroom, which makes me sound like I’m in eighth grade myself, but really I was hoping to get a sense of whether she has a mattress and blankets. Our school is in the foothills of the Aberdares Mountains of Kenya, high up at 8,000 ft., and nights can be incredibly cold—especially in houses that lack complete walls, have missing floorboards, or are patched up with mud. Most of our students battle constant colds and coughs.

The blanket on her mattress was damp from the rain and I shivered just standing in the dark. I asked Maryann if she gets cold at night and she revealed a wide smile, kneeling across her bed to pull out a thick, purple North Face jacket, explaining that she sleeps in it. Thinking back to our frigid walk home, I put my hands on my hips and asked why Maryann doesn’t wear it to and from school.

She thought for a moment and explained, “I wouldn’t want the other students to feel sad that they don’t have a jacket like this one.” Walking back to school on my own, I thought about how our students are a constant source of awe and hope for me, and how I want to strive to be more like them every day.



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Topics: Thought leader

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