KINGSTON—The minds and eyes of many Rhode Islanders are far away from the poverty and misfortune which plague the cities and slums of Nairobi. University of Rhode Island lecturer William Molloy, however, has taken to aiding the youth of the largest city in East Africa through education after witnessing first hand the daily challenges they face.
“I went to Kenya in 2007 to climb Mt Kilimanjaro and to go on a safari,” said Molloy. “I was meeting friends who had taught in international schools and participated in a feeding in the slums of Nairobi while waiting for everyone to arrive. I went to a school which had a classroom of orphaned children living in the room.”
When speaking and interacting with the students, Molloy began to realize how serious many of their individual conditions were.
“When I had fed the students, I noticed that some of the children were ill,” said Molloy. “They took the food but gave it to other children. They were HIV/AIDS positive, and the children who were orphaned by HIV/AIDS were in all likelihood born with it.”
As a teacher, Molloy was astonished to witness children who could not perform basic educational tasks that grade schoolers in the United States apply without a second thought. Because of the HIV/AIDS virus, learning was a distant thought compared to the struggle to survive.
“The teacher, who told me that she had no training and hadn’t gone past grade eight, told me that one of the children, who was living in the room, had died on the floor overnight,” said Molloy. “The other children had slept around him to keep him warm not knowing he was dead. She asked me if I could help her help these children by training them and the foundation was born.”
Molloy thus established The African Teacher Foundation, a non-profit organization which has trained more than 740 Kenyan and East African citizens who hope to employ successfully the same basic teaching lessons professionals in the Western world earn through formal education. According to Molloy, the program has been utilized by 29,000 students to date.
“[Many people] do not understand that teacher training is continuous,” said Molloy. “It goes on as long as we teach. This gives a clear focus to our training, and in the schools across Kenya, the slums of Nairobi, and, most importantly the children of East Africa, these students are all very eager to learn as are their teachers.”
Volunteers for Molloy’s organization are retired teachers, the expenses of travel and lodging for which are paid through The African Teacher Foundation. They visit in the summer to help assist budding teachers in the urban areas of Nairobi and throughout East Africa.
Molloy’s program has even garnered attention of two local filmmakers, John Lavall and Kate Kelley. The Pawtucket and Boston, Mass., natives, respectively, spent a month with Molloy and his volunteers filming the interactions between teachers and students in the impoverished and disadvantaged areas of East Africa.
“John met Bill Molloy through a mutual friend and after hearing about the work that the ATF does, John felt compelled to help,” said Kelley. “The film provides an insight to three different schools in Kenya: A Christian school - Church on the Rock Academy in Karen district of Nairobi, The Girls Soccer School in the Kibera Slum in Nairobi, the largest slum in Africa, and Jovial Community School in the depressed and over-populated Mukuru Slum.”
“Teachers from each school attended the training with the ATF, and we also focused on the work the ATF is doing as they help and support these teachers,” she added.
Kelley and Lavall, who have founded their own filmmaking company Devlo Media, were amazed at the amount of people living in the slums of Nairobi and the few resources in education that are available to them.
“Some of the things that stood out to us was about 700,000 people live in Mukuru, but there are only three public schools,” said Kelley. “Kibera has over one million people living in it, and one-third of the kids at Church on the Rock School are HIV positive.”
Molloy’s believes Lavall and Kelley’s film, “Kujifunza: The Work of the Africa Teacher Foundation,” is a perfect venue for the public to see the hardship children in East Africa face daily, and the hope that the organization is trying to breathe into their lives.
“The film documents beautifully what we do in Kenya and East Africa,’’ says Molloy. “It’s important for our supporters to visualize our work and see how we change lives. I’m very excited about this.”
“The ATF is important because it provides so much support to these Kenyan teachers,” said Kelley. “In the documentary, you will see some of the struggles the teachers face, such as overcrowded classrooms, high teacher to student ratios, no supplies, outdated books and methods.”
“But there is a tremendous hunger and enthusiasm for the training and support that the ATF provides for these teachers,” she added.
If You Go:
The film, which is free and open to the public, will be shown on Friday, March 1 at 6:30 p.m. in the Paff Auditorium at URI’s Providence Campus, 80 Washington St., Providence. For more information about or to donate to the African Teacher Foundation, visit www.africateacherfoundation.org  or e-mail Molloy at firstname.lastname@example.org .