Education: How a Poor Village Girl Became a Teacher of the World

Nini Mappo
Posted August 7, 2020 from Kenya
 Education: How a Poor Village Girl Became a Teacher of the World

 

My name is Nini, a one month old sister on World Pulse and a villager still trying to figure out city life, two decades on.

In my village, there are two kinds of houses. The mud kind that will fall in the rain, and the kiln-baked brick kind that withstands any weather. Ours was the mud kind. During the rainy season, the top half of its windward wall would soak up rainwater and fall. When we needed secure shelter, all we had was the uncomfortable intrusion of wind and rain. It felt as if we were always rebuilding, always cold, always unsafe.

I desperately wanted a home, a house where I could curl up in the cold and be warm. I was determined that I would get one when I grew up. To achieve that, I decided that the solution was to marry someone in the army. Army men were salaried, had good bonuses and their wives always lived in comfortable homes. At fourteen, my highest ambition in life was to become an army wife. My children too would get educated because an army husband could afford it. At least that is how it seemed to me.

The above photo was taken when I was 15. My friends and I have just completed the last examination of primary school (year 8) and are feeling very important and grown up. At this point in my life, I thought that once you finished primary 8 you got married, because it is what most of the girls in the village did. The boys would go off in search of unskilled work and return to marry the girls. I had completed primary school without yet having found my army man, for every such man in the vicinity of my village was already married.

My educational journey up to this point was well decorated. From grade 1, I finished top of my class every term of every year, as long as I was in school to sit for my examinations. When I failed to sit for my exams on one occasion having been sent home for $5 worth of tuition fees, the mean grade for our class fell considerably, bringing the overall school's position in the  cluster of schools down. After this incident, it was evident that I was too valuable to the school to be absent, and the school kept me on even when my family had not paid the family levy. I was happy to remain in school, but sad that that favour had not been extended to my  siblings as well.

At this village school, we had no class readers or story books to  fuel our imagination. There was no library, only the notes that the teachers wrote on the black board for us to copy. But o how I had a quest to know things! So I read the dictionary. I wrote stories to read to my friends. I gave speeches in English. I read newspapers borrowed from a teacher whose family member had returned to the village from the city. I somehow got hold of a few Danielle Steele's and James Hadley Chase's novels and soaked them in. A decade later, someone would tell me that those books weren't children's literature. I told her that I did not remember them that way, but just as stories. Words describing worlds to get lost into. New names, new lives, new places. A window into the world.

Although they did not have the means to fund my education, my parents gave me every opportunity to excel. My mother excused me from after-school house chores while in year 7 and 8. On the weekends, I helped with chores until the afternoon when I would be free to resume studying. Such a generous concession towards a girl child was unheard of in my village. But my mother, who had been forbidden from attending school in the 1950s because she was a girl, wanted her daughters to have every opportunity she could afford them. My father would read my report cards and explain them to my mother o so proudly. And although it was uncertain whether I would complete my education, my parents ensured that I understood its importance, and that I gave it my all.

At fifteen, I was an A-student, with no dreams. I did not dream of being anything because I could not be anything. To be anything one needed good education, and good education cost money. Since most of my older siblings had not completed high school, it would be a dangerous thing to dream.  I therefore finished my exams and went home to wait for my army prince to come and pluck me out of our fallen house, and take me to my kiln-baked brick castle.

Except, my soldier did not come. Instead, a dream found me. A dream that brought me here. You see, I got a very high score in the year 8 exam and gained admission into the most prestigious girls’ high school in the heart of Nairobi. I was the smartest girl in my district for that school year and, so to speak, put my village on the map. Since I had made history in my village, they could not bear the grief of producing a district star only to let her fall through the cracks. Besides, everyone was as proud of me as though I was their own daughter and wanted to do all they could for me. They therefore pooled together enough money to pay my admission fee and secure my place in the school. If I was enrolled, they said, I had a place. My spot would always be there, and I could finish school whenever money was forthcoming.   And so off to the grand city I went, a babe in the woods who had seen neither a computer nor a TV set, and more scared than she was excited.

Those four years of high school were the longest, loneliest, most disrupted period of my life. I could not understand the conversations of my TV watching, street savvy city classmates, and they could not understand how I could have lived a whole 15 years and know nothing of the world. During school holidays in the village, my former classmates felt they had nothing to offer a girl in a fancy city school and kept to themselves. What of my supportive parents? They could not begin to comprehend how things worked in the city to answer the myriad of questions in my mind or help me navigate my anxieties.

Education alienated me from my community, my support system so that wherever I was, I was on my own. Only I could dip into this well, and whatever I found was mine alone to evaluate, absorb, or discard. It was during this time that I developed my fierce independence as a protective shell against a world in which I no longer belonged. It is a shell I have been slowly demolishing, to let people in, to grow in empathy.

My learning was highly disrupted because if you did not pay, you did not stay. There were school terms where I spend as much time out of school as I did in school. I was always catching up. I never did catch up. Being in school felt as if the one thing I longed for was being dangled in front of me, only to be moved further the closer I came. You see, since finishing school was touch and go, I still could not dream of a life beyond my village. Here, poverty had created many a school dropout, and until I had a high school certificate in hand, I would not be safe from its powerful clutches.

My city classmates admired my self-control and discipline because I did not buy chocolates and potato chips in the school canteen, and I always finished my meals. They admired my independence and my parents’ faith in me when I went home on my own at the end of the term, while they waited for their parents or relatives or chauffeurs to drive them home. Some wished they could be like me. What did they know?

 I did not bother telling my school mates that I could not afford chocolates and crisps and chauffeurs. What could these privileged kids understand of being poor? Of the many times I got lost in this big city but could not tell my parents to protect them from the worry and the financial expense of resolving to pay their bus fare to bring me to school? Of the time I got lost and desperate on my way back to school, and was rescued from a sexual predator by a stranger who took me to her home for the night because I was in school uniform, making sure I got in the right public transport to my school the next day? Of how terrified I would be during the day-long journey between the school and my village? Of how much I wished they would share their fancy food with me? Of growing up too early out of necessity? No, I would let my poverty afford me some dignity and elevate me to the status of a role model.

In this school, I realised for the first time, that we were poor. Very, poor. And that the salaried village folk in ‘comfortable’ homes were poor too. I was so amazed at the sheer amount of money that some families seemed to have. How did they get it? What sort of jobs paid such money? I did not consider they might own large businesses, for my idea of a large business was the village general store whose owners I now  knew, were poor. But I understood one thing then: that I needed a new dream. A dream of my own that involved no man, no soldier. But how could I dream with the threat of being evicted from school for good always over my shoulder?

I however had one thing in my favour: mine was a high-ranking school, and completion rates for such schools are very important. The school administration knew that I owed too much and my trips home to collect tuition fees I owed yielded nothing. During my second last year, they decided to let me stay in school on bursaries and goodwill. I owed a lot of money when I finished. But I finished! I got a high school certificate, my permission to dream of being here and sharing a stage, with you.

The goodness of God in getting me into this school and giving me such unwarranted favour with its administration astounds me, because the alternative is bleak. Had I missed admission to that high-ranking school by one point, I would not be any less smart. But I would not be here. You would not be reading from me. I would not know you. I would be just another untapped potential on the margins, voiceless, invisible, dependent. This prospect makes me shudder.

For me, education was the dream that gave me the power to dream. Education gave me options. It opened my eyes to a vast world beyond my village and taught me that a girl could have views, pay her own way and be more than a wife.  More importantly, education made me a resource and immersed me onto a global stage. My village school friends however did not make the prestigious school that could let them learn first and pay later, their outcomes are quite different. Education separated us, which sounds oxymoronic.

A dream found me, and that is how a village girl without a dream can know you, speak with you, write. I love writing. I always seem to have so much to say! This dream culminated in a double degree in Education and English & Linguistics, followed by a Master of Education in Specific Learning Difficulties. My degree became the second for my village, and its first in two decades.

Since moving to Australia, this underprivileged village girl has had the very great joy of teaching students from every continent, both as a schoolteacher, and as a teacher of English to international students and migrants resettling into Australia. I would sometimes summon my village self into the classroom, as I help my student from Brazil or Russia or Portugal or Iran or Egypt or Indonesia with their syntax, and marvel at the wonder that is education. This wonder that has the power to trans-locate people geographically and socio-economically. This wonder that has the power to elevate a village girl into a teacher of the world. I concluded that even if I never did anything else in my life, I am a wee thing of a village girl from the middle of nowhere, teaching the world! Even I could not have dreamt that!

About 3 years ago, I put teaching on hold to work with a Not-for-Profit as a mentor to migrant students and young graduates to help them blossom in their identity and establish themselves as life givers in their contexts. I also teach them how to draw from the love of God so that they can give more than themselves, because love loves to give. This has afforded me work flexibility so that I can be more present in the lives of my three young children during their formative years. 

Education is my rags to riches story. More than making a village girl employable, education has enriched her to live in the world and made her a resource in that world.

 

Thank you for reading. 

Stay sparkly :)

 

Nini Mappo

A villager in the city.  

_________________________________________________________________________________________________________

 "You establish peace for us O God. All we have accomplished you have done for us." Psalms of David

 

 

This story was submitted in response to Equal Education.

Comments 32

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Hello, Nini,

What an inspiring story you have! You write so well. I love how you play with words.

Yes, I could attest that words just flow out from you whenever I come across your couraging comments. You're a great storyteller. If your put more details on this story, you could already write a memoir. Why not?

Every girl who lives in a village like yours needs to read about your story. You are an example of how accessing quality education changes lives. Sadly, it can only be afforded by the moneyed and the smart people. I hope there will come a time when even those with average academic intelligence could avail a scholarship to premier schools so their lives could change, too, instead of dreaming to marry someone in the army or in the Philippines: case, a foreigner from a first world country.

I love your determination and courage as a young girl who persevered in the city despite all odds. Congratulations on your double degree!

Are you staying in Australia for good? I love how you motivate your students from different countries by telling them the story of the village girl.

If Filipinos read stories like yours, they'll likely respond, "Sana all". Sana is "hope", so it can be translated as "I/we hope it's for all" or ",I/hope the same goes for everyone".

I'm proud of you, Nini! Kudos for chasing another dream! Thank you for sharing your eloquently written story. Please, keep writing, dear sister. Your voice, your writing gift, your experience, your uniqueness are your POWER!

Nini Mappo
Aug 09
Aug 09

Aww thank you Karen! A memoir is a good idea. My husband thinks I should write my story and make a film out of it.....I'm beginning to feel inspired!

It is a sad that access to education is still so poor in so many places still, and that I got a ton of favour to make it to this moment! I wish I had enough money to pay tuition for all the kids in my village that cannot afford it, but my hope is for my country to move towards free education or at least highly subsidised education for those in rural areas with ultra low income. Maybe one day..
I was thinking about your comment about courage and I realised maybe courage is just pushing through the fears, taking another step in spite of them, because I certainly did not feel courageous then;) But I had no plan B, so I poured everything into plan A.

Australia? my dream is to go back to Kenya, there's a lot I could do there...all these ideas in my mind. But it is not straight forward for my husband to get residency permit there, so we might be here for keeps. I suppose when it is time to move God will take care of the bureaucracies, but I am here for the foreseeable future at least.

Thank you for reading my story, and for acknowledging my journey, and for hoping with me for a future when women will be empowered enough to have other dreams outside of marrying army men or foreigners to improve their financial situation!

And thank you for being here to cheer us on with our dreams:)

You're welcome, dear. Yes, a memoir, and from that book, who knows a film producer will approach you to make it into a movie. Why not? Who knows you'll be the next Oprah. The possibilities are endless. Keep daring, dear. It's in your blood. Your experience speaks for it.

I share that sadness, dear. It would really be a lovely world if more girls can afford to have quality education. Maybe if you become a billionaire from you movie proceeds, you can fund their education. The size of your dream is the size of your God, sister.

Yes, of course. You felt fear and yet went ahead anyway, that is courage. If you have Netflix, it would be nice to watch Brene Brown's Call to Courage. Writing your story here is an act of courage. :)

Oh, I see. Just enjoy staying there and keep blooming where God planted you. I feel bad you'll keep missing our Encourager Parties because of the time zone there. :)

You're welcome, dear. Your gift in writing should be use. It's a good practice to post here on World Pulse. Who knows after months of writing, your book is ready.

The pleasure is mine, always. :)

Nini Mappo
Aug 11
Aug 11

Woo, big dreams! Yesterday I felt inspired, today I feel challenged! But it is true what you say, we're always asking the King for peanuts when He has a whole kingdom on offer! Thank you for that, it is sobering!
And yes I would like to be a billionaire and send all the kids to school :)

Thank you Karen, I don't know what to say besides that I am really encouraged :)

I

You're welcome, dear. You've passed the hardest challenge already. It prepared you for a better future. The more we rise, the more women will rise with us. I just see that in you, sister. Stay brave!

Dawn Arteaga
Aug 10
Aug 10

Nini - wow. I don't really know how to put into words the power I feel coming through your storytelling. You paint such a clear picture and I feel my heart beating harder with each sentence. Thank you for sharing this journey with us. The world is so lucky to have your voice -- and World Pulse is stronger because of your presence. So grateful you are part of this community!

Nini Mappo
Aug 11
Aug 11

Thank you for appreciating my writing so, Dawn. You make me feel like a real writer!
I too feel stronger for being here, just as in your comment above you gave me some of your strength!
Thank you for reading and for the uplifting feedback.

Tamarack Verrall
Aug 11
Aug 11

Hello Nini,
You are astounding. Not only because of what a brilliant writer you are, or because of all you have accomplished, overcoming hurdles that seem and that have been insurmountable to most. Not only that your prose is pure poetry and that you kept going, from graduating from Elementary school to finalizing a Masters. Not only that you managed to believe in yourself and continually find ways to dissolve boundaries of different personal experience both from your village community and from privileged people along the way. You are astounding in what you, your spirit brings to this world, to everyone who has the good fortune to meet you, and now to have you here with us all in World Pulse. What touches me deeply about your story, and so much does, is that you are telling your story to create a new path for all of the girls in your village, and for all people who for no reason but this horrendously unjust world economy, live in houses that dissolve each year when the rains come. It is so good to have you here with us, and I join the others in encouraging you to turn this into a book and a film about your life.
Deep sisterhood,
Tam

Nini Mappo
Aug 12
Aug 12

Dear Tam,
Your words are like a warm understanding embrace, thank you!
From time to time one gets a comment that one cannot do justice in responding to, and yours is one of them.
In writing my story, I simply related what happened as best I could, and in responding to it I feel that you have explained to me what happened, which is extraordinary, and the reason I don't know how to say what I want to say besides a sincere thank you, for putting such apt words into my experiences and my person!

My husband though, knows what he wants to say. On reading your comment he encouraged me to write it down and stick it in my kitchen (I have a few notes there) so I can preserve it to read from time to time:)

Thank you, for your depth of understanding, your insight, and your genuineness in how you interact with not only my story, but all the story tellers here who look to you for encouragement.

Your presence and your voice here at World Pulse tell us that we are heard, we are valued, and that whether our dreams take flight or not, it is safe to dream!

Your authenticity refreshes us, and I appreciate you.

Andrace
Aug 12
Aug 12

Thank you for sharing your amazing story, Nini. Welcome to the sisterhood. You're such a prolific writer and wordsmith. It can only take a higher power who rules in the affairs of men to do this.

Wow, I just realised by reading your story, that kids who move from the village to the city experienced some kind of shock too. Thank you for your bare-boned story.

Making an impact in any way, does go a long way. Very many African ladies are educationally disadvantaged due to cultural norms and go ahead to become untapped potentials, truly. I'll be happy to collaborate with you in any way to bring this figure down.

Together, we can! :)

Nini Mappo
Aug 12
Aug 12

Thank you Emi'. Indeed It takes a much higher power, with much more swing on how things turn than I do!
In my experience all unfamiliarity breeds fear or at least a level of anxiety, and that whether you are a child or a grown up. But in my case I was expected to be excited because I got the chance of a lifetime. And I did, but it did not come with a manual. But going through that has helped me to be more supportive of those in my circles going through various transitions, because internal struggles are not readily acknowledged in my culture.

Thank you for reaching out regarding the possibility of partnering in girl empowerment. I will send you a message and we can see where it takes us.

Thank you again for reading my story :)

Andrace
Aug 12
Aug 12

You're very welcome, Nini.

Someone whom I shared your awesome story with earlier today, did affirm how blessed you were. She told me about a programme her church anchored several years ago for indigent kids to attend affluent schools. Unfortunately, the programme had to be stopped, because the kids couldn't cope emotionally and psychologically. They were brilliant for sure, but could not handle the peculiarities at the same time... There should be a more effective way to help. What do you think?

Meanwhile, keep glowing, Sis. Thank you for connecting and 'look forward to our collaboration soon. :)

Nini Mappo
Aug 15
Aug 15

Thank you Emi' for valuing my story enough to share it! That was a great vision that the church had. How unfortunate that it had to be stopped:(
I think the particular culture of the school makes a big difference in how well the students adjust. In my school for instance, all new students had mentors for the first 3 months who would show them everything from making the beds, personal grooming, yard responsibilities, school culture and so on. There was an assumption that all the newbies new nothing and had to be taught and guided through, which was a big help.
Might that have been incorporated into the settling-in-period for these students?

I have a couple of other ideas we can brainstorm if I have a bit more info on backgrounds, personalities and expectations at the new school.
We should explore every option that can support such initiatives and keep these children in schools that are really a launch pad into the global space. God-willing we'll come up with something :)

keep up the good work ...

Nini Mappo
Aug 15
Aug 15

Hi Charlene,
Thank you for the encouragement, and for the reading my story.

Sophia Ngugi
Aug 14
Aug 14

Nini, this is so lovely! I can identify with your story, and experience in school having come from the village to a national top school myself. The good part is despite these challenges, the schools afforded you (and me, and many other girls) an opportunity to get excellent education and open doors to a lot in life. I am inspired by your story, and yes, the 'poor' girl is not making a difference for many! Keep up

Nini Mappo
Aug 15
Aug 15

Ha, Sophia:) We persevered, and we made it!
Well done to you too, and thank you for reading my story.

Cawilco
Aug 14
Aug 14

Your words and story are so beautiful! Thank you for sharing!

Nini Mappo
Aug 15
Aug 15

Hi Cawilco,
Thank you for reading and taking the time to comment. I am glad that you saw the beauty in my journey.
I hope that you are safe wherever you are in the world.

Prozoe
Aug 15
Aug 15

"This wonder that has the power to elevate a village girl into a teacher of the world"
I can totally relate to the beauty that is education and how it is a dream that gives one the power to dream, I am in awe of you and how you have stepped out into the world. Your story for me is not too far from home, I am totally inspired by your journey this far, beautiful courageous and driven indeed. i can literally feel your the desire to drive change from the comfort of my couch.

#BigLove

Nini Mappo
Aug 18
Aug 18

Hello dear Prozoe,
How lovely that my story is for you not too far from home. Sometimes I read what you write and I feel as if I've talked to you before. Maybe we have a lot in common.
Thank you for the compliments. There is so much I want to do, because there is so much that God has done for me, and as far as good stewardship goes, to whom much is given, much is expected, but much support is availed as well. Thank you for the love too, it is the biggest asset we have with which to change the world.

I hope that you are well and sparkly in SA.

Prozoe
Aug 18
Aug 18

Nini... I feel it too, Some connection as tough I had more times then once, in my lifetime, shared a room filled with words and feelings with you. Perhaps we do have a lot in common. To whom much is given, much is expected indeed. Another truth I live really close to.

You are most welcome. Love most definitely is our greatest asset, from a well that never runs dry.

I like thinking of myself as a lighthouse, most of the times really close to the waves and in the darkest spots but I always have light to give. And that is how My beloved country is, full of conflict and pain and darkness, but from deep inside, I remain sparkly.

I trust that you are well too. Based in Australia?

Keep doing sister, it is wwll within you to do so successfully.

I love your Stories. #SmileyFace
#BigLove

Nini Mappo
Aug 19
Aug 19

Thank you for that, your message made me smile :)
I like the light house metaphor, I think it describes you beautifully. Firmly established, strong even in solitude or isolated places, and always extending light to any that look your direction, far reaching light inviting others to connect, guiding others on how to connect...creating safety, diminishing darkness!

Shine on sister! I can feel/ see your sparkle all the way from Australia through your presence here, and thank God that in you we have 'kindred spirit' :)

Thelma obani 2020
Aug 15
Aug 15

Story of the village girl.
Not any more dear.
Thanks for the grace and enthusiasm.
Your story is an inspiration to many .
Thanks for sharing

Nini Mappo
Aug 18
Aug 18

Thank you Thelma. There is still a village girl inside whose experiences shape my responses to city life, and keep me connected to all the girls like me. But you are right, as my father said, I have outgrown the village.
Thank you for reading.

valem
Aug 16
Aug 16

Nini Congratulations you have been able to fight the three insects that are plaguing African countries with ignorance, poverty, and disease, your my super women for sure from zero to hero

Nini Mappo
Aug 18
Aug 18

Thank you Valem. I got a lot of favour along the way as well, and I consider myself blessed.
I like your analogy of insects, how bothersome and uncomfortable and disease vectors they can be! I am so glad that you can be encouraged by my journey of zero to hero.

Kabahenda
Aug 16
Aug 16

Wow Nini! Wow!

What an inspirational story! What a phenomenal woman you are! You are a jewel to Kenya to the wrold and to World Pulse.

You are a talented writer and more power to you.

You have shown us that when one has a brain, when one puts that brain to work, when one has a supportive family and community, the sky is the limit.

Nini, your story is one that should be published and distributed throughout all schools in Kenya, and Africa particularly, because there are many Ninis thinking that an Army man, a sugar daddy, a corner-store shopkeeper have the solution to a woman's poverty only to end up in hell on earth!!

Even if, your story was as short as 20 pages, and even if it sold for $1.00, can you imagine how many girls' lives it would rescue?

Nini, I encourage you to get out there by whatever means, book, film, radio, etc. and make your story known.

It is empowering. It is timely. It is urgent and it is transformational.

I am a firm believer that the pen is more powerful than the sword.

You pen and your voice are your ultimate weapons of power. I encourage you to use them to touch the lives of young socially and economically disadvantaged girls and even boys in the world.

I love the fact that you have now turned your energy to mentoring and empowering migrant students and others to find themselves and to shine their talents to the world. What a noble misssion!

Go girl! Go girl! All the best to you and please keep us updated.

Nini Mappo
Aug 18
Aug 18

Woooh, Kabahenda, besides being inspirational you are entrepreneurial too! I like your ideas of what can be done with my story. I did consider using it as encouragement, but did not consider the financial angle and how it might benefit girls. Your message is so beautiful and passionate and charged I read it and felt like 'yes, I'll do it'! But there is a lot to consider.

I hope that I can. Sharing my story is the first step, it has invited so many beautiful perspective as to its potential. I pray that the fullness of that potential will be realised one day with God's help and this supportive sisterhood.

Thank you Kabahenda, you spoke to my heart : )

Kabahenda
Aug 27
Aug 27

Hi Nini,

I wish I were entrepreneurial, but I am no at all. The reason I suggested selling your story for as low as $1:00 is to ensure that it gets to every girl in the remotest villages of Kenya and Africa, and of course, there is the cost of production, which you may not be in a position to meet.

Nonetheless, your story has a strong and insprinmessage. It need to be read widely, especially, by girls who have academic potential but are financially challenged.

That was the point I wanted to make. All the besst.

Thanks for sharing this wonderful story.

Nini Mappo
Aug 18
Aug 18

Hello Stella,
Thank you for taking the time to read my story.