One thing that I notice about many Kenyan villages that to this day still astounds me is the amount of freedom a child has when returning home from school. Kenya introduced free primary education back in 2003 and since then classroom sizes have significantly grown. Students in their respective school uniforms are a common sight in almost all villages and towns and cities, adding even more color to the daily scene of Kenyan life.
These children, ranging from 5 years and up, go to school every morning, some as early as 4:30am! and come home every evening around 4:00 or 5:00pm. Often traveling in packs, you see these children everywhere: walking along the roads, joking on the the village paths, even taking the public transport, some crammed 3 or 4 to a seat, stacked largest to smallest.
What is missing from the scene, when seen through my suburban-american lenses, are the parents, the crossing guards, the teachers, the bus drivers: the adult overseers of child home-school-home transportation. There are no adult individuals explicitly tasked with ensuring the welfare of the children as they make their way through the towns and villages to their homes.
Is it because in Kenya there is no need? The phrase, “It takes a village to raise a child,” is everyday apparent here. Mamas scold children when necessary, regardless of whose kid he or she may be. Whereas in the US many people are scared to step on another’s metaphorical parenting toes, potentially upsetting that other’s “parenting style,” here, there seems to be more outward consensus of what a parent should be doing to raise their child; you aren’t stepping on anyone’s toes, you are simply doing what should be done.
Possibly this sense of communal welfare and even communal policing is another reason why five year olds can walk around without their helicopter-mom constantly hovering nearby. If a child gets on a matatu, the conductor will not try to cheat him, that would be preposterous. These are the children, they are the future, and if you cheat them, the mamas will get you anyway, so just don’t do it. The specifically-tasked individuals, iconic in the US, are not needed here when every mama is a crossing guard, every matatu driver a bus driver.