It was in the fall of 2007 that Brent started the chant: “We are the future leaders of Kenya.” Hoping to ignite the spark of leadership he saw in our students in Kenya, he asked them to repeat this mantra three times.
At first it was a sorry thing. In rural areas, children speak their tribal Daruma language, later to be mixed in with Swahili. As they are exposed to education, they begin to learn English, but it is not a language that comes easily to their tongues. Hearing English spoken by an American is even more foreign. Yet they are good sports, ever wanting to please. “We are the future leaders of Kenya,” they would attempt, missing half the words, clearly not really understanding what the phrase meant. A motley crowd they were, half in worn uniforms, half in clothes that looked like they’d soon be ready for the rubbish pile. Bare feet. Eyes wide. But they tried.
I have to admit, even in years to follow, their attempts were so sorry I’d end up feeling embarrassed for Brent. The paradox of seeing these kids try to repeat such a thing just felt wrong. Coming from the poorest educational district in Kenya, half starving, most unable to pay school fees: how could “the future leaders of Kenya” possibly emerge from this crowd?
But with each year, the chant grew. It started as a tiny thing, but fueled by hope, it began to take on a life of its own. More students entered the Kenya Keys sponsorship program. More students got access to books through the small libraries that were popping up. The students found a new sense of pride in being able to speak English, the language of education ever since the British declared Kenya a colony in 1919. It no longer seemed so laughable that a future leader of Kenya could emerge from this ragged crew. It’s amazing what can happen when people seize a new vision of themselves.
This last trip, I heard the chant and tears would instantly come to my eyes. There was Brent, ever hopeful, so able to see the beautiful spark in each person he meets, leading the chorus. The chant was no longer a sorry declaration. Brent, standing in front of the student body, would ask, “Students, do you have something to tell me?” “Yes,” they replied. “We Are The Future Leaders of Kenya!” they shouted. There was strength in its wings. Hearing is believing. Saying is believing. You cannot feel the groundswell without believing it just might be true.