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EsF Stories: Terry Koskei

EsF Stories: Terry Koskei

“I have been able to interact with lots of different people from all backgrounds, all through my life."

Serving children from nomadic tribes in Kenya through the Corner Of Hope initiative, Terry Koskei and her team fill backpacks with Montessori materials and then set off on foot to make the journey to school. The supportive community helps to make learning materials. Vocabulary is presented in Swahili, English and Maa.

Where are you currently and how is the situation there, given the Covid-19 challenges?

I am at home in Nakuru (central Kenya) with my family due to the pandemic, the government has ordered to close the schools. This also means that the children at Samburu are not attending school at the moment, everything there is still ok but things are at a standstill. After this decision, we packed up the schools and have stored the materials until the schools can open again. We are using this time to prepare more materials, so that when the schools open again we can offer the children more, including materials reflecting Samburu nomadic culture. Fortunately no cases have been recorded in the region, which is very remote. What is still ongoing in Samburu is that a nurse visits the settlements, called Manyattas, to create awareness around the virus and what kind of measures to minimize the risks.  

Where in the world did you grow up, Terry?

I grew up in Baringo County in Kenya, Africa. It is an area characterized by dry land and very hot temperatures. The inhabitants live in assorted housing,including a mixture of shelters made from iron sheets, and (since it has become developed) more permanent housing. The vegetation includes acacia trees, cactus plants and most desert shrubs. Because the soil is clay, it is farmed using irrigation schemes. Farmers tend goats, sheep and cattle. Most of the people in the area are nomads, and may also own camels or donkeys. I lived there, in Baringo, in a family of eighteen siblings. I did my studies for my primary level and then proceeded for my secondary level in a high school. Before finishing my secondary level of schooling, however, my life was interrupted by an outbreak of violence in Kenya, after the 2007 election results. I was eventually relocated to Nakuru, one of the other counties in Kenya, in an IDP camp. (Note: An internally displaced person is someone who is forced to flee his or her home but who remains within his or her country's borders.) After some time the government came in and helped us restart our lives, although we had lost connection with the rest of our families due to our running for safety. After some years we happily reconnected.  

Can you describe one of your most precious childhood memories?

One of my most precious childhood memories is when I was given my first shoes after a long while of walking without any. Because the hot sun heated the soil during my walk to school and from school, it was indeed precious. While going to school without shoes, I used to tie nylon on my feet so that we could walk and play on the hot ground. Then there was the memorable day my dad came home from work, having bought me and my younger brother a pair of tyre sandals.

What do you remember about your earliest school days?

I can remember scrabbling for food at school since we didn’t have enough, both at home and at school. I also recall fighting for a sharpener and ending up getting a cut that I still have, to this day!

Did one person in particular inspire you during your childhood?

My eldest brother. His name is Levis Koskei and he is a teacher. He teaches English literature and history in a high school. I wanted to become a teacher like him and here I am, one! He is my role model. He is always there to take risks for my family, always there to help in decision making and he also helps me to take care of my parents. My Dad is sick, and has broken his legs and his arms. Levis is always there to take him to hospital alongside my younger brother. When I was younger, Levis protected me in school. He made sure I was safe, and that I got all that I needed for my schooling, even though he didn’t have much to give. He did his best. He corrected me when I did wrong, and that made me who I am. One night I had a stomach upset. My brother mixed ashes with water and gave me the solution to drink. Then I vomited and my stomach was okay. He saved my life. Much love to him. My parents have inspired me, too. Their hard work and commitment really motivated me and gave me reason to be me, from childhood to maturity.

How does your childhood experience relate to the life you are currently living?

I have been able to interact with lots of different people from all backgrounds, all through my life. My family was a big community on its own. Hence, it shaped me through day-to-day life experiences. The tasks given by teachers and parents, and eldest siblings, really gave me much experience on how to deal with various situations in different ways. The rules in our home and the hardship of life really gave me a good experience of that. I always remember these experiences, due to my absorbent mind and the tendencies that were built during that time.

Terry, please tell us a little more about what you do!

I am a Montessori directress, working with a project known as the Samburu Initiative. My school is called Samburu Montessori School; the school is made of a tent, and is very pretty. The children come from a humble background, full of challenges. They are very capable of learning and are willing to do more, when given the chance. I see this in how they spend time putting into practice whatever it is they learn. Their transformation is so beautiful. My work is to help in directing the children towards developing their own interests, using learning materials. Through this kind of direction a child is enabled to achieve much and attain a higher level of skill, as well as independence, concentration, perfection and refinement of the senses. We also guide the children in reading and writing, depending on each child’s ability. Keeping in mind the tradition observed in the nomadic area that I work in (Samburu) observation of the ethics in that area enables us to live in harmony and peace.

What are your hopes and dreams for the future?

I hope that the work we started in Samburu will grow and will lead to more Montessori schools in and outside the country. I will dedicate all my energy to help these children to be all they can be. My dream is to reach all those children in need of education, respecting their day-to-day activities and culture to maintain their tradition and to also encourage them to value tradition. I hope to see the fruits of my labour through these children, which will make me very proud of my work. I dream of more schools and for people to get employment and to gain skills that help sustain their families and themselves through different ways, not only through herding. I also hope that the Montessori method will be accepted by the Kenyan government, which will allow Montessori teachers to work anywhere in the country, also in government schools. Personally, I hope to continue learning, to see my children grow and that when the time comes my grandchildren will also be able to attend Montessori schools.  My hopes are high, if they would all be realized the world will be more beautiful.

Note: Some of Terry’s challenges are transport and infrastructure as there are no roads in these regions. Children of different ages who have never been to school need to be integrated. Terry says that whilst the wildlife, such as elephants and giraffes are very beautiful, their close proximity to the community can cause the children to be frightened of these dangerous animals, resulting in them staying away from school and having interrupted sleep due to the elephants shaking trees close to tents. Working with Nomadic people means that they often move on.

A very warm thank-you goes to Terry for sharing her story with us!  You can learn more about the Samburu initiative here.

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