How a teacher in Kenya turns to inner strength during a pandemic
Reaching out for comfort and community
After the COVID-19 pandemic forced the Nairobi metropolitan area into lockdown, it became clear that I could not physically move about the region where I live in any way.
I was unable to do my job with Youth First, and I could not visit friends or be social in the ways that I enjoy. However, with the blessing of phones and the internet, my mind and words could journey and visit many places and people who are miles away, every day.
One afternoon, after I had finished my household routines, I decided to call a few friends to find out how they are coping. I wanted to extend love and kindness where I could, as this goes a long way in making friends feel valued and cared for during this time of isolation and uncertainty.
On this particular afternoon, I spoke to only one friend, a teacher named Joseph, and he had much to say. I could sense he had been needing someone to talk to. His “cup was so full and overflowing” so to speak.
Locked down and alone with financial stress
Teacher Joseph is a facilitator in the Youth First Kenya project. He was employed in one of the private schools on the outskirts of Nairobi.
Joseph is in his mid-thirties with a wife and two young children, whom he supports with his teaching salary of around $130 per month. While school is in session, he lives in Nairobi and periodically travels to his home village in Nandi County to see his family when he can. These visits are over 323 kilometers from the capital city.
Due to COVID-19, all schools closed in March. In mid-April, most of the teachers in the school were either fired or put on half of their salary. Joseph had thought of going home to his village, but he could not because restrictions in the Nairobi Metropolitan area prevented travel.
So, despite receiving a significant salary reduction, Joseph was forced to stay in Nairobi, pay his rent and other expenses there, as well as support his family back in the village.
Lost for words but not compassion
I listened carefully to his story. I did not know what to tell Joseph at that particular moment.
Certainly, Joseph was in a difficult position at the moment but many people both in Nairobi and around the world faced similar circumstances. He continued talking and I listened.
Gratitude for inner-strength during a pandemic
Joseph shared his thanks for the teacher that helped him develop his inner-resilience, Mwalimu Wangu. He added, “I am so happy that I participated in the Youth First Program. Because I know that these challenges have left me with only one choice—remaining calm.”
Needless to say, I was surprised to hear how positive he sounded.
“There is nothing much I can do for now but remain optimistic that this will pass too and a better season is coming. I have taught myself to live one day at a time. I want to remain peaceful so that I can make the right decisions and live comfortably with myself.”
Thoughtful choices for a better tomorrow
He explained to me that remaining peaceful is not about the external factors that weigh on him. Rather, it is about how he chooses to react to what comes his way. It’s the attitude that counts in this situation.
“I still have a long life ahead of me.” he continued. “I have children to bring up and so I have chosen to be strong. My children are my responsibility and therefore I cannot afford to shrink and give in to self-pity and helplessness.”
“Since the COVID-19 lockdown came, I have had quality time to reflect on many aspects of my life. I had never imagined that my family would survive on farming in the village (without me, no less!). I however have decided to forgive myself for being away all this time. There are better things I could do than strain myself to work in the city and deny my family my presence”.
He took a deep breath and after a few seconds, and added:
“I thought my family would die if I did not support them with my meager teacher’s salary. But clearly I was wrong!”
“My family is surviving even though am not sending them any help. For this reason, I have a new life plan. After the lockdown is eased, I want to go home to my village. I plan to start a brand new school there while I farm with my family. In doing so, we will be closer. Even if the business is slow to start, we will survive because we are together.”
A plan with purpose and passion
As Joseph shared his new life plan, I was thrilled to see how the concepts of Youth First had come into play and how he was applying the lessons he learned.
He painted for me a beautiful picture of a better future that focused on core resilience concepts including:
- | Attitudinal Healing
- | Positive Psychology
- | Creativity
- | Hope
- | Benefit Finding
- | Conscious Choice
- | Problem-Solving
- | Determination
- | Courage
The program had brilliant and long-lasting imprints in the life of this teacher and his family!
Bringing resilience to others
After this phone call with my dear friend Joseph, I was filled with a sense of fulfillment. COVID-19 has been testing all of us in the application of the lessons, skills, and attitudes developed from Youth First.
Many concepts of the program have been internalized and have become part of the lives of the teachers and participants. It is evident that with a resilient attitude one can survive hard times, make positive decisions, and remain hopeful.
Amidst challenges, one can still forge ahead and live a successful life. Joseph promised that even after leaving Nairobi, he will initiate the Youth First program in schools in his village.
I am so proud of Joseph and so grateful to be part of this program!