- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 4, 2007

One of my goals as a home-schooling parent has always been to teach my children how to teach others. Through sharing knowledge, a young person develops a far more thorough understanding of that material, while at the same time developing skills in communication.

In the process of speaking, demonstrating, encouraging and collaborating with others, the student uses different neural pathways, with the end product being a far more profound connection with both the subject matter and with the group being taught.

My son and I and a college student have just returned from an educational trip to Kenya in East Africa. This nation of about 30 million straddles the equator and is home to stunning natural treasures such as Mount Kenya, Lake Victoria, the Great Rift Valley and abundant wildlife. National parks preserve populations of lions, giraffes, elephants, zebras, antelope and other animals. Rich soil and two rain cycles each year provide a year-round growing environment.

In terms of culture and history, Kenya is home to several dozen tribes, each with its own language and traditions, although a strong national identity has been forged to overcome the barriers that such diversity produces.

Kenya has lost 1.5 million lives to AIDS, with another 1.3 million currently infected, and 1.7 million orphaned children. Under the auspices of an HIV-prevention education program known as WAIT (Washington AIDS International Teens), we were there to teach and to learn.

Most of our work was in schools, so we had the chance to see the Kenyan educational system in action. Structured on the system of eight years of primary school, four of secondary school and four of university, the schools combine a nationalized curriculum with a recognition of the value of the religious private schools, which allows them freedom to operate with an insistence that they allow enrollment by any Kenyan, regardless of faith background.

Our work lay in visiting schools in the underserved rural areas and teaching them HIV/AIDS prevention educational methods. We encountered some challenges right away. Few schools had ready access to electricity, and equipment that would be easily found in any U.S. home or classroom was pretty rare. So, we couldn’t use our laptop computer, music CDs or DVDs to show our presentations, in most cases.

This forced us to innovate. My son found that he could ask the crowd to create a rhythm with clapping and that he could break dance even on the uneven and often rocky ground. We learned to teach a skit through a combination of narrating the information and demonstrating the action and emotion, role by role. We used the terrain to create natural performance spaces, by having students sit on a sloping hillside to view the presentation, creating a sort of natural amphitheater. We sang songs without accompaniment and, at times, encouraged the listeners to join in on the choruses.

As we taught a group, we would then seek opportunities for them to teach others. So, after training the high school section of one school, we had them perform and speak before the primary school the following day, and travel to a third school a few days later.

At the same time, we made presentations to the schools’ parents and adult faculty, and to community members who had specialized knowledge. We encouraged the adults to take the lead in mentoring the trainees and to connect them to other groups that would benefit from the information.

We also trained two groups of older college-aged youths, who agreed to work with the younger groups to support their outreach. We also met with public health care providers and with religious leaders to share the successful practices initiated from each group.

It is a special feeling to see young people with the heart and skills to share lifesaving knowledge with others. In just one week, our small team was able to serve some seven schools, several churches and two youth organizations. We also were able to learn firsthand the unique struggles of those battling this disease in Kenya.

We also learned phrases in several local languages, observed the way of life in both the urban and rural communities, and picked up the customs practiced there regarding meals, hygiene and commerce.

Teaching children to teach others multiplies the impact of the investment as a home-schooling parent. We are not merely educating our own children but empowering them to empower others in turn.

Kate Tsubata, a home-schooling mother of three, is a freelance writer living in Maryland.

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