Long before I started The Toa Nafasi Project in Kilimanjaro; and long before I was a book publicist in New York City; and long before I graduated Columbia University; and long before I graduated Georgetown Day High School in Washington DC, I fancied myself a poet.

No, scratch that.  I was a poet.  And I knew it.

I had loved word-smithing from practically out of the womb, and creative writing was my outlet as a young child well into my teenage years.  In college, of course, the creativity gave way to practical writing and, by the time I had landed my first publicity job, I’d all but given up poems for press releases.  Yet still, there was always a love for the written word and, in particular, for poetry.

When I was in the 3rd or 4th grade, I remember a troupe of performers coming to my school and challenging all the kids to write a poem that they would perform at the Kennedy Center.  I don’t remember how many kids were picked total, but I remember being among them and the pride I felt in knowing that my cluster of paltry little quatrains would be on display for the greater Washington area’s delectation.  My poem was titled “The Night of the Orange Moon” and I could not, for the life of me, tell you what happened the night the moon turned orange, but I do know that, at the time, it was a very big deal!

I think that’s why the article written by JKS Makokha and reprinted below from The Star, Kenya (17-08-2019) speaks to me so much.  As a child, creative writing and, in particular, poetry was a way in which I could make sense of the world around me in my own words.  It allowed me to express myself and my natural inclination to play with language flourished my art.  I don’t know if I was a particularly good child-poet, but I do know that I took my craft very seriously.  Writing poems did exactly what the writer of this piece says: It helped me build a “new educational frame of mind for new times and new challenges” and it allowed me to “reflect my dreams and desires, aspirations and anxieties, as well as my hopes and challenges to happiness.”  For a small child to whom the world can be a bewildering and befuddling place, this was a hugely important means of emotional expression.

I don’t know how poetry would work for The Toa Nafasi Project.  Tanzania is not much for a culture of reading and emotions are often tamped down in favor of “real-life problems.”  But it’s something I will continue to think about, if not as a means of self-expression for the children, then for our tutors who might also benefit from the power of poetry and the warmth of the written word.


Book harnesses creative talent from children in the spirit of CBC

‘Bounding for Light’ stirs curiosity in children towards learning

The book is a compilation of over 60 poems produced by schoolchildren

The new Competency-Based Curriculum is being rolled out by the government steadily.  The debate around salient and latent points of the new educational system continues unhindered.  The main concern of the society is to teach the young.

The CBC is made to highlight many aspects of learner-centered learning.  This focus is mainly on the nurturing of skills and knowledge that can be applied competently to a real-life situation.

Many teachers are now warming up to the new dispensation.  Some 99,000 teachers have already been trained for the purpose.  Interestingly, the new enthusiasm is reflected in the efforts of one young teacher from Kenya, who is already experimenting with this approach to knowledge.

Richard Mbuthia teaches languages at the Makini School of Tanzania.  He recently launched a new collection of children’s poetry in Tanzania together with his primary school learners.  Mbuthia is pursuing a Bachelor of Education degree at Kenyatta University under the school-based program.

Bounding for Light is a compilation of poems by primary school children and should be read both for enjoyment and also as an illustration of the spirit of the new curriculum.  It comes in simple diction but stirs curiosity in children towards learning, provided a conducive and enabling environment is provided.

Poetry exposes learners at an early age to creative and critical thinking.  It helps learners build the new educational frame of mind for the new times and new challenges of our fast-changing societies.

The new book is a compilation of over 60 poems produced by schoolchildren.  Their teacher says he has used the same approach for the past two years, inspired by Kenya’s CBC vision, with great results.

Most of the children are between the age of 11 and 12 and demonstrate great perception and understanding of everyday life around them.  The poems reflect their dreams and desires, aspirations and anxieties, as well as their hopes and challenges to happiness.

For example, in the first poem of the anthology, “Closed Door,” Joanne Muteteri, 11,  talks of: Everything has a solution/ According to its proportion/ As soon as everyone takes a portion/ We will come up with a conclusion.  Nothing in life is insurmountable if we all bring our collective efforts together.

Like Joanne’s poem, the rest tackle important issues in society, including: love, peace, education interest, nature, environmental degradation, violence, parent conflicts, sickness and even crime.  The verses demonstrate the healing and therapeutic angle of creative art.  Creativity can have early beginnings in elementary education, too, as envisaged in our new curriculum.

Mbuthia understands that language is best taught in and with practice.  By creating weekly sessions for writing classes, he demonstrates in this anthology how talents can be nurtured at an early age.

Bounding for Light is available from local bookstores and is a welcome addition to the rich field of children’s literature being produced in Kenya today.  It is a worthy handbook for other teachers in the new curriculum that can inspire similar efforts in our schools.  Mbuthia is also a poet and his book, The Setting Noon and Other Poems (2017), is locally available in bookstores.

I enjoyed reading these competent pieces of poetry.  They resonated with me as a parent and a teacher.  The idea of giving children a chance to let their inner spirits come to life through language activities like writing poetry encapsulates the government’s intention with the new curriculum.  It should be given a chance, just as our children should be, too.

His experimentations with Kenya’s new vision of education with pupils in neighboring Tanzania demonstrates the viability of CBC.  Indeed, children’s literature, just like CBC, should communicate important values to the child as well as benefit her aesthetically.

The new curriculum promises to provide talent-building environments not just for STEM subjects but also for ART-based subjects.  Creative writing, performing arts and other talent-nurturing subjects should be given a space in the new educational dispensation.