March 28, 2018
Written by Julia Quintana
This article was originally posted on Medium.
How the Tusome national literacy program is changing lives in Kenya
At Brainstorm Junior School in Kibera, Kenya, a seven-year-old girl slowly yet steadily reads aloud from a picture book while her teacher looks on encouragingly. She focuses intently on each word, dissecting and sounding them out from start to finish.
Although seemingly a normal day in the classroom, for Gift* and her teacher Valma Mongiti Amenya, the moment holds a distinct feeling of triumph.
Only two years earlier, Gift was unable to read, write, or even speak. As an infant, Gift suffered from respiratory problems, and later developed tonsillitis as a toddler. After her tonsils were removed incorrectly, Gift stopped speaking and began gesturing to communicate. A subsequent traumatizing experience with a violent caregiver left Gift, already a vulnerable child, distraught, angry, and disruptive.
Diagnosed as mentally challenged when she reached school age, Gift was placed in special needs classes and predictably struggled within the Kenyan school system, which has limited instructional materials and high student-to-teacher ratios. Her teachers described her as aggressive and disruptive, making loud unintelligible noises, tearing her clothes and school supplies, and hitting the other children.