In addition to teaching health classes to primary school students, outreach techniques to community health workers, income generation basics to people living with HIV/AIDS, and neighborhood kids about why it’s unwise to follow random white people around asking for candy (it usually only takes getting chased with a wooden spoon once or twice to fix this one), I also teach a class called “Life Skills” to middle school aged students. It covers general skills like how to be assertive in communication and how to weigh consequences, as well as more detailed information about things like STIs and illegal drug use. You probably had something similar at that age.

But rather than the standard “copy things onto the board for the students to memorize” approach, I like to get them involved and try – try – to make then think creatively. I break them out into groups and have them discuss tricky situations. I make them close their eyes and do visualization. I have them write about their goals and obstacles. I encourage them to speak up in class. Just the other week, I helped the kids stage a “drama competition” where four teams presented skits about pregnancy, early marriage, alcohol abuse, and selling drugs. Sometimes it’s incredibly frustrating (the kids have never done creative exercises like this and it occasionally crashes and burns spectacularly) but it can also be very rewarding.

Also: very funny.

About a month ago, I started off a series of lessons about setting goals and making decisions by assigning them to write brief compositions about their future lives. I told them to imagine themselves ten years from that day: how old would they be? Where did they want to live? What career did they want to have? What about family and friends? Some students had difficulty with this kind of pseudo-abstract thinking. Another merely wrote down the local proverb: “Today is only today, and he who speaks of Tomorrow is a liar” and turned that in. But a lot of kids wrote really heartfelt, moving essays. If all goes well, ten years from now, Kenya will have 45 new doctors, pilots, nurses, boat captains, teachers, and politicians to flesh out the workforce 😀

Predictably, since it involved middle schoolers, some of it was hilarious. As I graded their work, I found myself sitting in the teacher’s room laughing until tears came to my eyes and the other faculty demanded I read some of the better stuff aloud. I certainly wasn’t laughing at my students – I sincerely appreciated their hard work, especially in what is (for many of them) a third language. I wasn’t bothered by misspellings or warped grammar. But still it was … well. You’ll see.

My Students Say the Darndest Things: Part 1

– “I was going to have a boyfriend, but then I forgot.”

– “I want a big house and a big car but I will not be proud over them. I will never be a proud peacock!”

– “When I am 23 years old I will be a newscaster. Every morning I will make up the news.”

– “I am going to make big money and return to support my family. Every day I will eat meat – but not my younger brother and sister. I will make them eat VEGETABLES.” (that last word underlined several times for effect)

– “I will not want a wife. Women are too much trouble. Even in ten years, I will be as without a wife as a deserted ship is.”

– “My goal is to be a wife and mother to strong children who go to school, with a husband who is kind and also strong. It is just fine if he is a little stupid. He will think he controls me, but he knows nothing!”

– “I will be a good role model for others. Each day I will tell my friends not to have bad behaviors or they will be stone cold killuhz, such as Tupac.”

– “I want to be a footballer [soccer player] and play with the Chelsea club. I will be such a good footballer that the other players might look at me and want to spit.”

– “I will have six children, but I will keep them in school and not allow them to get married. There is plenty of life for that. Grandchildren are like regrets: they come after some time.”

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