When I arrive in Nairobi it is a dark, warm night. I am welcomed with a wide smile by Antonino Masuri, my guide from AVSI – a charity that, since 1986, has worked to support children and impoverished families in Kenya.
We meet the taxi driver who is taking us to our guesthouse. From our chat during the journey I discover that, when they move from speaking Swahili (a mix of Arabic and the original African dialect of the area) to English, Kenyans change many ‘L’ sounds to ‘R’ sounds. So I get used to hearing ‘God bRess you’ or ‘Rucky you!’.
Thanks to a gift from Fabriano, many Kenyan children will be writing and drawing on the same notebooks as Italian children this school year. I am in the country to help distribute 45,000 notebooks that feature cover art by the late Richard Scarry (who, in a pleasing coincidence, used to visit Kenya regularly with his wife).
Early the next morning our school visits begin. The first is in Githurai, a suburb of Nairobi made up of dirt roads and shacks. The Christ Victory primary and middle school occupies a church building during weekday mornings and early afternoons. It is oppressively hot beneath the tin roof and only a few classes have enough natural light in which to work comfortably. There are approximately 300 children and teenagers in the school, divided into seven classes. Sixty per cent of the children are from refugee families, from the Congo, South Sudan and Burundi.
Quickly we improvise some lessons: one on paper and its fibres; and another on banknote paper and the cotton that makes it so strong. As we leave, the headmaster thanks me and asks me to pray for the children. They do need help, even though the charity provides the children with their uniforms, texts and exercise books, as well as a midday meal. Famine, thankfully, is a thing of the past in Kenya; schooling and health are now the priorities for development.
A short walk away is Realwood, another school supported by AVSI, but this one is brick-built. Here, the children gather in the little internal courtyard to sing a welcome song. Then we open the boxes, distribute the notebooks and get down to drawing, an activity that immediately breaks down the barriers of language and culture.