Newly registered kids sometimes feel anxious when they step into a Hope Center for the first time. Here’s how two amazing Child Champions at a Hope Center in Malindi, Kenya, help them adjust.
The first day at the Hope Center can be rough for newly registered kids, just like the start of school.
The emotions that come with being at a new place for the first time can build up anxiety.
On the morning of the first day, scenes at Hope Centers range from parents walking in holding their children’s hands, some carrying them on their backs, some kids walking slowly behind their parents as though they are afraid, to some clinging to their parents’ clothes as they cry when their parents leave.
At Upendo Hope Center, Salama and Caro are in charge of the little kids ages 3 to 6. They volunteer at the center as teachers. These two Child Champions have a gift for helping kids living in poverty adjust and feel welcome.
Caro, 22, is a graduate of the same Hope Center. She experienced her own first day in 2008. Today she teaches at a nearby kindergarten school. Caro began to volunteer as a Child Champion at the Hope Center in 2021.
Salama is also a kindergarten teacher and owns a business in Jilore, the village in Malindi where the Hope Center is located.
The Teachers Who Inspired Caro
Caro says that as a child she dreamed of becoming a doctor. Little did she know that her calling was in teaching.
“I used to be a shy girl,” she says. “I never spoke in front of people, so the idea of becoming a teacher never crossed my mind.”
But in grade four, Caro’s teacher formed discussion groups in the class and appointed Caro to lead one of the groups. At the time she never thought she had leadership skills, but her teacher saw the leader in her.
As a group leader, Caro would coordinate the discussions and report back to the teacher. In class, she was the one to present her group’s discussion, and slowly she built her confidence.
She admired what her teachers did for her, so Caro decided she, too, wanted to impact the lives of children.
“My teachers were good to me. They made my experience in school lovely,” says Caro “I always looked forward to going to school each day and that made me want to become a teacher, too.”
Salama says that for a long time she never knew what her dreams were. All she knew was she never wanted to become a teacher.
“In school, I saw how some kids were rude to teachers, and that broke my heart,” she says.
“I thought teaching was one of the most ungratifying callings, so I never wanted to become a teacher.”
But remembering an incident in her early years of school made her reconsider her previous stand.
Salama started school in first grade because her parents couldn’t afford to pay school fees for her kindergarten education. When the time came for her to start school, she was put in the same class as her age group.
“I and some other kids who had the same story as mine took time to catch up,” she says. “I never knew how to read or speak Swahili. I couldn’t do my assignments because I never caught a thing being taught in class.”
Fortunately for her, Mochero, one of her teachers, was determined to help kids like Salama excel in class. Mochero organized free extra tutoring for them and followed up until they were all able to read and write.
“He would call us to remain behind for some time while the rest went home, and would patiently teach us until we got it,” Salama recalls.
“He was gentle and kind to us and would make the extra classes so enjoyable, and that made me admire his work.”
Teacher Mochero’s actions motivated Salama to want to become a great teacher like him.
After high school, Salama went to college and pursued a course in early childhood education. She joined the Hope Center in 2016.
Eye to Eye With the Kids
At Hope Centers, kids are registered in the sponsorship program periodically. As they come into Upendo Hope Center, they are put in the care of Salama and Caro.
Salama and Caro say that in addition to crying and wanting to go back home with their parents, kids also isolate themselves from the other kids, and it takes intentional effort by the teachers to make them comfortable.
“I begin by going down to their level,” says Salama. “I sit or kneel down so that I am at the same eye level as all the kids. Then I begin by introducing myself and allowing the kids to say their names and either their parent’s or sibling’s name, whichever they can remember. We do it so playfully to allow the new kids to relax.”
Caro says she loves to start by being playful with them.
“I sing for them, and we all dance together. I allow each of them to show us a dance move, as we dance along before we do the introductions. I allow them to freely pair up with one another, but I also ensure that all the new kids pair up with the older ones.”
According to Caro, the pairing-up activity ensures that all the children feel part of the big Hope Center family.
New Experiences for Kids
The two Child Champions say they also help the kids adjust by helping them participate in activities at the Hope Center.
“When the kids join, they get to experience some things for the first time at the center,” Salama says.
“Some get to see a toilet for the first time at the center, and they have no clue how to use it, so we start doing potty training for them.”
Most of the children get to have multiple meals a day for the first time at the Hope Center. This is because their families can only afford to have one or two meals a day. It is common to visit a family and find that children only had porridge for breakfast. Then they wait for another meal in the evening, which depends on whether their parents were able to earn any money during the day.
Even then, the meals they have are rarely balanced. They are mostly a carbohydrate, alone or served with either a vegetable or a protein.
At the Hope Center, they get to have a well-balanced breakfast and lunch, and then an evening snack as they go home. Caro says this comes as a surprise to most of the kids.
“When queuing up for food, some will pick a serving for one item on the menu and then leave,” she says. “They get surprised when you ask them to try everything on the menu because they wonder if all of it is meant for them. So, on the first day, we help serve their food.”
The teachers also help the kids adjust to having their own plate of food. During main meals in most large families in the community, food is served on one big plate and all the kids, both young and old, eat from the same plate.
A Full Heart
According to the Caro and Salma, being able to be at the same level as the kids coupled with being patient, kind, and gentle with them makes them love the teachers, which translates to them loving the Hope Center.
Salama says that over time, she has come to realize that teaching is one of the most rewarding callings.
“My heart is full!” she says. “The kids I serve love and trust me, and so do their parents. Seeing them thrive blesses my heart. I also realized that no child is ever born problematic. It’s mostly always a cry for help. Yet most people miss seeing it and just label a child ‘rude’.”
Caro is grateful to be serving kids. Her hope is that the kids she serves grow into change-makers in the world.
“God has blessed us with kids,” she says. “So, we should handle them like the blessing that they are so that they can be the change that this world deserves.”
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