“Luvuno’s Clarion Call” by Rinda Hayes
I’ll never forget the day I met Luvuno Mwanjimbo. She was a tiny girl with a big voice and an even bigger spirit. She was the leader or “caller” of her first grade class – the one who would belt out the phrase that everyone would follow. In 2006, when my daughter Aliska was with me, we poked our heads into her classroom to say hello.
If you want sheer joy, poke into a class of little ones in Kenya, that is, if they are used to you. At first the shock of seeing a white face can stop them in their tracks. Wariness and fear is what you will see. But if you’ve broken through that, you will be greeted with a burst of joy you can’t describe.
When we poked our heads into Luvuno’s classroom, there was no teacher, which is not unusual. The kids were quietly gathered around their little notebooks, learning as they could. As they popped up to say hello, we said we’d love a song. They all turned and looked at Luvuno, the smallest child in the class. It was a given she’d get them going. And she did – with monumental gusto. Share in the delight with this VIDEO!
I have used the video of Luvuno countless times over the past 12 years, showing it to children in U.S. classroom and assemblies, as we shared with them what the classrooms are like in rural Kenyan primary schools. I’d also used Luvuno and her classmates to illustrate what strong spirits poverty can breed. Her gusto has mesmerized children and adults. Who couldn’t be stopped in their tracks by a child so bold and buoyant? By children so reverberating with life in circumstances we might consider pitiful?
It was all part of the “wake-up call” we were trying to take to American classrooms. Luvuno’s was our clarion call. Though Kenya Keys was in its birth phase when I met her, I’d whispered to Aliska, “You just watch. That little girl will be a Kenya Keys student someday.”
So when we saw the photos of the incoming students in 2015, you can imagine the swell of emotion when I saw Luvuno. Sure enough, she’d qualified for the program, not just because of her academic scores but because of her family’s extreme poverty. They never could have sent her to secondary school without outside help – her curious mind hitting a brick wall. She was still tiny, her eyes still bold. On her application, she said her dream was to be a “lecturer”. Not a surprise, I thought with a smile. She could lead the world.
Wanting to keep her close, I’d assigned her to a family we were related to. Now here I was, years later, in Kenya. Luvuno had been accepted to a top national school in Kenya. She had traveled many hours to come see me and get a letter from her sponsor.
Despite all the time our staff and volunteers had put into collecting letters from sponsors, we had still arrived missing about 30% of them. People are busy and distracted in the U.S. I am as well, so I can relate. In our world of inundation, it’s difficult to convince sponsors that a letter and photo from them means EVERYTHING to their student. We produce an encouraging “generic” letter for students who don’t get letter from sponsors. The students are grateful to receive anything. If they are really disappointed, they seldom let on. They are masters of their emotions.
But Luvuno is not one to hold anything inside. When I told her there was not a letter from her sponsor, tears filled her eyes. “But I don’t even know what they look like! It’s been two years and I have not seen their lovely faces!”
I told her all I could about the family, the ages of their children, what they were like. I promised I would get her a letter and photo when I returned home. It would be waiting for her when she returned in November, which sounded very far off. Mail still doesn’t work here. Nor would an email ever reach her. Patience. Patience is the number one requirement of being African.
I asked her to write a letter to her sponsor family, and she most gratefully did. Not a trace of her disappointment came through – only her deep gratitude. “It has been a great opportunity you have given me…..I will really secure it, so as to utilize it and make a difference in my family and in society.” Later, “I am really eager to meet you one day, so I can have a conversation with you, my dear ones. I am really proud of coming into a companionship with your family. I really take it as a blessing that I will honor and respect in the rest of my life.” Oh, what I learn from these precious students! They never waste time “lamenting”, as they call it. They move on. They don’t hold grudges. They quickly let go of what doesn’t serve them. Their lives demand such rigor. They cannot waste precious time and energy.
We hug good-bye. A year from now we will see each other, and she will be headed off to college. Nothing will stop her. I hear the call of her childhood song, I feel the rhythm of her stomping feet. I want only to go with her.
Rinda Hayes is the co-founder and Director of Kenya Keys. She has dedicated the last 13 years of her life to developing and growing this amazing organization, changing the lives of hundreds of young Kenyan students, their families, and their communities.
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