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Reflections on My Teaching & Learning in Kenya

Updated: Jul 2


desk for teaching and learning in Kakuma Kenya image by HoppArt

Whenever I reflect on my amazing journey teaching in Kenya, I am flooded with sweet and cherished memories. I learned many profound lessons and experienced cultural exchanges that influenced me greatly. Today, as I look back, I realize how relevant these lessons are for parents and educators, especially in promoting diverse educational outcomes in the classroom and at home. Below are several reflections of my teaching and learning, I've also included a few writing prompts and project ideas that you can use in your learning settings.



Reflection Part I: Cultural Differences & Initial Impressions

One of the most memorable moments was when I introduced my dogs, Cookie and Monkey, through photographs to the students. Their reaction was priceless–they asked, "What are those for?" as if I might be planning to eat them!


This innocent question highlighted the vast cultural differences between us. Another surprising moment was when a student asked if I had children, and my "no" was met with shock. In their culture, marriage and having children are almost simultaneous.


Through these encounters, I learned the importance of understanding and respecting different cultural perspectives. Thankfully, what I learned from this journey helps me greatly today in creating a more cheerful and engaging classroom environment—a place where students feel safe, respected, and equal despite their backgrounds.


Use this writing and art making prompt to explore cultural diversity: Think about a time when you met someone who celebrated different holidays, ate different foods, or spoke a different language than you. What was it like meeting them? Were you surprised by anything they did or said? Did you learn anything new about them or yourself? Draw a picture or write a story about your experience.


Part II: Morning Routine & Kenyan Delicacies

Mornings in Kenya were a tranquil start to the day. My walk from my room, affectionately dubbed "the oven," to the main FilmAid house was a soothing routine, despite the lack of scenic views. Breakfast often included Mandazi, delightful Kenyan doughnuts, which quickly became a favorite. These quiet moments allowed me to reflect on the day's activities and mentally prepare for the interactions ahead.


Through this simple morning joy, I realized the importance of incorporating local traditions into our daily lives. In today’s classrooms, we must highlight, celebrate, and appreciate different cultures through traditions and hospitality. This is a powerful tool for teaching mindfulness and cultural awareness. As teachers, we may not have experienced a specific culture firsthand or know someone to ask, which can make this challenging. This is where the power of art comes in! Art allows us to ask questions, research, and investigate. As educators and parents, it is our responsibility to open the gates of exploration for our children!


Use this prompt to think and make art in relation to traditions and food: Think about a special food you eat during holidays or celebrations. What is the food, and what does it look, smell, and taste like? How do you make it, and who helps you? Why is this food important to your family or culture? Draw a picture or write a story about this special food.




HoppArt in Kakuma Kenya teaching a photography class. teaching and learning

Part III: Focus on Family

My lesson on family was particularly enlightening. Students wrote about what made their families unique, and many expressed deep gratitude for their families' efforts to send them to school. It was a pleasure seeing how much they valued the importance of education. This boosted my confidence in my field and opened my eyes to how students can view the value of education. I also considered the heart-wrenching stories of the students who fled their home countries, leaving their families, homes, schools, and lives in search of refuge. 


Writing combined with photographing family can be a simple stepping stone to helping students appreciate their unique backgrounds and their families' efforts. Sharing with others can bring out similarities and differences, which can lead to great discussions! Beyond the classroom, doing this at home can allow parents to share interesting stories about their childhoods with their children, slowly closing the generation gap.


Interviews & Photography Assignment:

That evening, the students were tasked with interviewing and photographing a family member. This assignment aimed to deepen their understanding of their families and build communication skills. The anticipation was palpable, and the outcomes were heartwarming.


Using similar assignments today can engage students with their families, enhancing their communication skills and fostering a deeper connection with their heritage. It also provides a wonderful opportunity for parents to be involved in their children's education, creating a collaborative learning experience.


To get started on this theme: Interview a family member about a favorite game or toy they had when they were your age. What was it, and how did they play with it? Draw a picture or write a story about what you learned.


Part IV: Dancing & Singing, Teaching & Learning

Dancing became a delightful part of our breaks and lunches. Teaching the students to two-step and salsa brought joy and laughter to our routine. The classroom roared with laughter as we navigated the dance steps, with poor Andrew blushing furiously at being put in the spotlight.


The students, in turn, taught us some of their dance moves, creating a beautiful exchange of cultures. Dancing proved to be a universal language, bringing us closer together. They also sang a beautiful gospel song, which was a moving experience.


Incorporating music and dance into the curriculum can significantly enhance physical activity, cultural exchange, and overall student engagement. These activities not only bring joy but also teach students about different cultures and the importance of self-expression.


Project idea: Think about a time when you expressed yourself through art, music, dance, or another creative activity. How did it make you feel? What did you learn about yourself or your culture? Draw a picture or write a story about your experience.


Part V: Arrival of New Cameras

The excitement was palpable as we awaited the arrival of new cameras for the students. Having enough cameras meant they wouldn't have to share, making it easier for them to participate in our projects. The plan was to leave the cameras with Film Aid, ensuring continued access for the students.


In this modern era, photography has become a powerful and unique tool that boosts the creativity of the students. Through this amazing hands-on creativity feature, education becomes more fun & easy for the students.


Exploring the Camp with Cameras:

After class, we ventured around the camp, starting in the oldest area in Kakuma 1. We interacted with locals, bought fabrics for dresses, and visited a tailor who would sew the dresses using a pedal sewing machine. These excursions provided a deeper understanding of the local economy and daily life.


Field trips and community engagement activities can be incredibly educational for students today. They offer practical learning experiences and help students develop a broader understanding of the world around them.


Family / Classroom Challenge: Think about a time when you walked around a new place. What did you see, hear, and smell? What was different from your usual surroundings? How did this walk make you feel? Draw a picture or write a story about your experience. What are some of the benefits of walking in a new place? How can it help you learn about a different culture? How can you use your senses to explore a new place when walking?


Part VI: Photographing Soccer Games

Photographing Kakuma’s soccer games was a major highlight. Children climbed trees to watch, and their excitement was infectious. Soccer is a huge recreational activity in Kakuma, keeping the players active and building their skills. Sports and outdoor activities are crucial for developing teamwork and community spirit. They also provide a healthy outlet for energy and creativity, making them an essential part of any educational program. 


As an artist, being an observer to an active soccer game, one can explore how the body moves- this can be a great figure drawing lesson. Movement in itself is also an interesting aspect, visually and emotionally. 


Watching sports and creating art have so many great connections! If sports is or is not an interest to your child you can use it to build observation skills and sequencing skills with any medium from a simple pen and paper to watercolor paintings!


Project idea: Isolate movement with your camera. Look over the photos and redraw the basic shapes and body positions. Observe how they change. Investigate the artwork of Muybridge and learn how he photographed movement.


Part VII: Encounter with South Sudanese Ritual Dancing

One unexpected adventure led us to a South Sudanese ritual dance. The head of the group was very nice to us and asked us to join them and take some pictures. The experience felt unreal, with drums playing and people lined up jumping and dancing.


This meeting showed how important it is to highlight diversity of people and ideas in education. Teaching students about different cultures and traditions can help make society more welcoming and understanding. It shows how important it is to respect and enjoy different cultures.


An idea for creating: Think about your favorite kind of dance or a dance you saw someone else do. What kind of music goes with the dance? How does the dance make you feel? Draw a picture of someone doing the dance, or create your own dance moves! Be sure to explore movement and emotion through color!


Part VIII: Teaching & Learning Reflections on Life in Kakuma

The challenges faced by the residents of Kakuma, especially regarding resettlement, were eye-opening. Many had been living in uncertainty for years, unsure of their future. This uncertainty was heartbreaking, yet the resilience of these individuals was inspiring.


Today, it's really important to teach people how to be strong and understand other people's feelings in school. Teaching students to understand and care about the difficulties others go through can make our society kinder and more understanding. It also helps them deal with their problems with strength and determination.


Continue the discussion: Think about a time when you helped someone who was feeling sad, scared, or angry. What did you do to help them feel better? How did you show them you cared? Draw a picture or write a story about your experience.


Conclusion:

Looking back on these experiences, the educational outcomes and teacher learning are profound. Cultural exchange, understanding, and empathy are very important. 


These experiences have influenced how I teach, and I want to encourage others to use these lessons in their teaching.


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