Nifundishe. It’s a perfect word. It sums up the essence of the yearning that enveloped us when we touched ground in the Samburu Division. It’s a Swahili word meaning “teach me.” Swahili, a language growing out of twelve centuries of trading with Arabs, is the official language for the area covering 1,500 miles of the East African coast, spilling inland as well. It communicates what it needs to, often in short, clipped phrases. Nifundishe.
The young people we serve in this niche of rural Kenya (and there are thousands of them) have one thing in common. It continues to surprise us in untold ways. It is the desire to learn. It is a desire so strong, that they will choose learning over food, over comfort, over any kind of relief of suffering that we were able to observe. They soak up learning like their rain parched land soaks up any hint of water. To those of us that come from the land of mandatory learning, where children this time of year are celebrating their liberation from classrooms and textbooks, it is a true anomaly.
The power of “nifundishe” humbled me to the core when I first came here to teach. I was used to trying to ignite interest in what I was teaching. Here, their interest ignited me, but it also frightened me. The depth of their wanting. Their eagerness to absorb. The hunger for something more lasting than the ugali that quieted their empty, empty bellies.