Van Hoorn’s Kenyan visit a humbling experience

Dr. Debora Van Hoorn enjoys a moment with her son, Jake, and husband, Chuck, during their mission trip to Kenya.

March 4, 2010

Although Dr. Debora Van Hoorn visited and lectured at several schools and colleges during a three-week June 2009 trip to Kenya, one K-8 school outside of Mombasa provided her the most “impacting educational experience.”

Van Hoorn, College of Education and Health Sciences certification officer and clinical coordinator, says this took place at Marimani Village at a K-8 school, which has 777 students and only 11 teachers. Marimani Village is outside of Mombasa. “The first-grade classroom has 88 students!”

It was at this school that Van Hoorn had a humbling experience. Prior to departing for Kenya, Van Hoorn had collected Bradley University supplies and some pens and pencils from the College of EHS and the Office of Admissions. “After distributing these to the students, they all broke out in applause,” Van Hoorn recalled. “Imagine people applauding for a free pen or pencil—very humbling.”

The school day at Marimani Village begins at 8 a.m. with the students walking to school each day, some from as far as three miles away. Class is held until noon, and it is followed by a lunch break from 12-2. At lunch, all would have ugali and water each day for lunch. “Ugali is a largely tasteless combination of corn meal and water mixed to a firm consistency—no thank you,” Van Hoorn commented. After lunch, the students return to class from 2-4 p.m.

The language of instruction is English, so it was easy to converse with children and young adults. Some older adults had never had English as part of their education and, since the group knew no Swahili, they had to rely upon the youngsters to translate for them.

The school was comprised of concrete buildings with no window screens or doors. The teachers had no chalk, few textbooks, and no electricity. “This is an amazingly challenging educational environment, but these students were incredibly patient and helped each other, which is critical when the student to teacher ratio is considered,” Van Hoorn added. “The teachers at Marimani Village believe they are called to teach—to make a difference in children’s lives—and they are striving to fulfill this call each day. They are succeeding.”

Other schools and colleges Van Hoorn visited in Kenya included Pwani Bible Institute in Mombasa, Daystar University in Nairobi, and Rift Valley Academy in Kijabe. Her team of eight also met with several government officials.