Taking a year abroad as a 17-year old is something that many teenagers dream about. The chance to get away from your parents and friends back home for a while, to experience a new culture, make new friends and try a new type of food is tremendously exciting! Many swedes choose to go to the US or France and I even know people who went to South America. But if you (like me) don’t want to miss a year in school, because you want to graduate with your best friends, there is the option of going to one of the Swedish schools. There is one in London, Madrid, Paris and Nairobi. I choose the one in Nairobi – It is a Swedish boarding school that initially was created for the children of Swedish missionaries that went to East Africa. I wanted to get away for a while, to a place far from where I had been in the past and see the world outside the little bubble I felt that I lived in. A feeling that I believe a lot of teenagers share today.
Now, going to Nairobi is not like going to another European city or the US. I was aware of this but not to what extent. The Swedish school in Nairobi is a boarding school with a tennis court and a pool. we were 50 young students from all parts of Sweden. The first thing that hit me when leaving the airport was how there were brick walls around the houses and guards could be seen everywhere. Walls surrounded even the poorest neighbourhoods! A high and thick wall also surrounded the Swedish school, there were guards and specific times where you had to be back and many places, even close to the school, were you were not allowed to go. It was like getting a taste of freedom but then also realizing the segregation of the world.
I remember us going on a tour around town the first weekend and people coming up to the bus asking for money and children selling popcorns and toys – and I remember thinking “how will I be able to live with this for a full year?” I felt so guilty. Here I am, going on a gap year, leaving my secure reality back home to stay in the sun for a year, and all these people that don’t even have the basic needs covered live just outside the brick wall… But like the human being works, after a while you get used to it. Whilst you don’t accept it, and I hope I never will, after some time the impact and shock of children begging for money declines.
I participated in the model UN during my year there and it was placed at the UN habitat that has its main office there. Naturally there were a lot of UN employees, aid workers and people working for foreign companies living in Nairobi. I learnt a lot and it was truly interesting but it also made me realize the segregation between theory and practice. The foreigners and Kenyan politicians would travel, with their drivers, in nice cars from one place to another, never using public transport and never walking the streets of Nairobi, logically, because they are quite dangerous. It is very sad when the people that are responsible to make the decisions are so disconnected to the reality. This is what happens all over the world as the world is starting to feel like a more dangerous place, and eventually, this will lead to increased segregation. This is something that we are starting to see in Europe and other parts of the western world as right-wing politicians are gaining support and power. Support built on fear, fear for the unknown and what is different.
I am so thankful that I went to Nairobi in that age when the world feels like a friendly and open place and you feel completely fearless. At times when I look back at it I recognize that my friends and I sometimes were carless and a bit too brave for our own good. But everything went well and I had an amazing, truly “eye-opening time”. I met so many great people. Kenya is a beautiful country with so much potential, but so much potential that is not able to grow, mainly due to the lack of education.
There is nothing that upsets me more than when children are denied the right to education.
I remember thinking while I was there how many scientists, philosophers, doctors and even noble price winners that Kenya misses out on due to this. That is why Capital Smiles has listed the new project “Family hope children centre” whose aim is to provide education and lunch to children from families that cannot afford the school fee.
With education, we will be able to achieve a sustainable integrated future where people can speak on the same terms and are in control of their own future, and can stand up for their rights. It is no surprise that countries that offer poor public education are also the countries’ with the highest crime rates. Society has to stand up for its citizens in ensuring to cover their basic needs; and we at Capital Smiles believe education is one of these.
By education, we are convinced that we can create better and safer societies without all of those brick walls.