It is 3 AM and somehow your body commands itself to waken. Groggily, you crawl off of your cot, stumble out of your hut, and walk into the darkness. You splash your face with water and brush your teeth in a nearby basin. Throwing on your school uniform, still dusty from yesterday as you had no time to wash it, you then slide your feet into your shoes, grab your unfinished school materials, and hopefully eat a piece of white bread or a banana before heading on your way.
Your feet hit the dirt path. The hour is so early that darkness covers the land, blanketing it in an eerily quiet state. Besides the chirping of crickets, a slight breeze whipping through the tall grasses, and a random rustle from unknown creatures in nearby bushes, all you can hear is the sound of red dirt (you know it’s red from the many times you’ve walked it) crunching beneath your shoes. It feels like you were just here.
Half-awake, you silently walk the all-too-familiar 4.5 mile path. As if in a dream-like state, every pothole and tree stump memorized, you place one foot in front of the other. If only you were dreaming. Every day you must make this journey – 4.5 miles to school, 4.5 miles back home.
You muster enough energy to get through your lessons – even though by the time it is lunch, you have already been awake for almost half of a day. Eager to engage in your classes and excel among your schoolmates, you often find that your mind is foggy and overwhelmed by the work you know you will not have time to complete.
The school day ends and you head off down the same path from which you came – no time to stay and linger with friends, work on your studies, or play sports. You have 4.5 miles to walk and you must get home in time to assist your mother with the cleaning, cooking, and care-taking of your three younger siblings. Arriving home at 7 pm you do your chores without complaint and collapse into bed. Exhausted from the day, you try to stay awake to catch up on school work, but you are tired, and you have to wake up and do it all again in less than six hours.
Like many other Maasai children, who live long distances from one another and from their schools, Jovia found she had little to no time to do her schoolwork, let alone get a full night’s rest. She was constantly falling behind – not because she was lazy, not because she didn’t try, not because she wasn’t smart enough, but because she literally didn’t have time.
By the age of 13, Jovia’s aunt noticed that she was clearly struggling. Her aunt recommended to Jovia’s mother that she attend a boarding school in Siyapei, Kenya. Siyapei Primary School offers scholarships to at-risk, vulnerable girls – Jovia’s aunt knew she would qualify.
Jovia was accepted to the school and in only one year her academics have significantly improved, “When I came here, I was not an average person, but nowadays I score highly because I get time to read and I have my own free time.” Because she no longer spends the hours she is not in school walking and taking care of her family, Jovia has been able to focus on her studies. She has also had the time and freedom to be a teenage girl – to play with her friends, read what she wants, explore new places, and learn skills of her choosing.
One of these skills is gardening.
World Concern partners with Siyapei Primary School to run a kitchen garden (also known as a shamba) for the students. The garden serves to improve the student’s nutritional health as well as educate them about growing and cultivating a variety of fruits and vegetables.
Jovia is one of the 36 students who are members of Siyapei’s 4K Club – a popular club that is in charge of the care and keeping of the shamba. The members meet once a week to participate in the gardening of kale, cabbage, spinach, carrots, tomatoes, and melons.
According to Jovia, “We are the ones who have been taught how to maintain the garden.”
The patron of the school’s 4K Club, mentioned that “prior to the garden, the student’s diet was unbalanced – consisting of only maize and beans.” Many of the students were so accustomed to an unbalanced diet that the vegetables initially upset their stomachs. Now the students eat green vegetables every day; they are healthy and enjoy the variety. Speaking of the other students, Jovia said, “When they eat sokuma (kale) and cabbages, they are well.”
In fact, the garden is proving to be so successful that the students are able grow more than enough produce to feed themselves. They sell the extra in the local market and use the money to retain the shamba and buy supplies for the girls (soap, towels, etc.). Siyapei’s teachers believe that the students will “know enough about gardening to create their own once they return home.”
Jovia seems to agree – “I like watering the plants…the vegetables…and digging…In the future I’d like to own a big farm. Then I’ll plant vegetables and wheat for my family members. I will sell them. And some I’ll take to the orphan children and children’s homes.”
Jovia still has one more year at Siyapei Primary. We hope and pray that she will have the support and drive to continue excelling in her education and spread her gardening skills along the way.
See Jovia’s story here!:
(I apologize if this video appears a bit wavy… minor technical difficulties in the uploading process…)