Last week on Thursday, September 11 at around midday, I saw a group of kids, not more than 15, who by their size appeared to be in nursery school.
The little boys and girls in pink checked shirts and grey pair of shorts were clustered in front of some televisions on display.
They were gazing and pointing at some monkey swinging inside the TV sets. They sighed in awe when they saw the up close shots of ants. Around them, were aisles after aisles full of new products and items on sale.
When I saw them, I thought, “wow, these kids are out shopping at this hour…shouldn’t they be in class?”
However, unknown to me they were in class. They were on a class trip. Their teacher, a lady, had brought her class on a trip in a SUPERMARKET.
Let that sink in.
That one place that we go, dash into quickly to pick a few stuff…or window shop…was their location for an educational trip.
Their teacher enthusiastically showing them why the many TVs in different sizes were on the shelves and why they had on price tags. And that was not all, she was describing to these young children why certain aisles were labelled the way they were.
Again, a trip in a supermarket.
Now, this stood out for me because trips during my primary school days were always out of town, probably to a beach or an agricultural institution or to the zoo or the airport. What I would now consider ‘educational’. The supermarket according to me was the least educational place for any learner.
But I was wrong.
From the look of things and by the teacher’s thorough explanation of what happened here, you could tell this was an important trip.
The supermarket is in Mathare North. Mathare in Kenya is an area known for slums (second to Kibera), violence and more slums. In fact a quick search on Google just shows you the extent of poverty here, is on another level.
Indeed it is true.
The area has mushrooms of informal settlement popping all over and every short distance you are bound to find a burst sewer that flows into water pipes or food vendors. You will see clinics and health centers competing for space with bars and entertainment joints. You will see business stalls lined up calling on potential customers with music, sales people or adverts.
There are car wash areas, colourful matatus (Public Service Vehicles) and happy children playing on road side. There are high rise houses adjacent to each other that if one tenant has a cold, the next door neighbour would probably pick it. That close. There are electricity wires in meshes swaying and scrapping the air in the Mathare skies.
I live in Mathare and each day as I get into a matatu to town, I will always walk past school children who despite their torn socks and faded uniforms, they will carry their paper bags full of books heading to class. I will see little boys and girls bracing the morning chill to be in class.
And it was until I bumped into the class on a trip that I realised that their lessons were both in and out of the classrooms. As I saw today, they also involved a visit to supermarkets and who knows where else.
I deduced that their teacher wanted to show them the available possibilities amidst the sea of poverty they knew.
Such high level of want that these young minds would want to attend class tomorrow pegged on a possibility of stepping into a supermarket that they either passed by every morning or saw its branded paper bags in the heaps of waste around them.
Seeing the inquisitive children asking why the soaps were put away from the bread and maize flour, made me realise that while this visit to the supermarket was ordinary to me, it was probably a first to these little leaders.
You could see the admiration in their eyes as shoppers carrying items passed them as their ooh and aah rented the supermarket. It hit me that this trip was the opening of new chapters into these children’s lives.
That beyond the mire of life in a slum town as they know it, there was so much more available. So much variety that was presented to these kids but circumstances had hindered them from reaching out to them.
I saw this and I was challenged to take a fresher look at the things I have and assume exist for everyone else.
Later, the children would file at the teller and each was given a lollipop on their way out. Some of them began to undo the lollipop wrappers in glee. Then I noticed one who looked at his sweet for a while and simply put it into his shirt pocket, stretched out his palm and joined his hand to complete a chain of little hands and glossy excited eyes.
One of their lesson of the day was over, with their teacher at the lead, they streamed out.