Nairobi, Kenya: The other day I had an interesting conversation with a nurse about her first job where she served as matron of a girls’ school.
Our conversation took place at about the same time stories about the debauchery at the Masaku Sevens rugby tournament were doing the rounds and it drifted to discussing the worsening conduct our youth. The nurse’s experiences were very enlightening; she got a job in a small boarding school outside Nairobi with a population of about 350 students.
In her first few months as matron, she embarked on her new job with the usual gusto of a newcomer. However, she soon noticed a pattern of odd behaviour. First there was an obvious pairing of among some girls and it seemed intimate as these pairs would spend much of their time together.
Other acts of closeness included the exchange of food and candy, the holding of hands and an unusual intimacy in a girls’ only school.
As a matron she had access to the girls’ dormitory day and night and it was not long before she discovered that some girls were engaging in inappropriate behaviour. Often the double-decker beds would be blocked from view using bed sheets as curtains and what took place within was anybody’s guess.
Being non-confrontational by temperament and not wanting to stir up a fuss without concrete evidence, the matron did nothing. However, as a staff member living closest to the dormitories, she found it difficult to turn a blind eye to the obvious intimacy between some girls. Eventually she was rescued from her dilemma when matters came to a head after two girls fought over the affections of another — a love triangle gone sour.
Armed with all the information she could gather about the incident, she reported the matter to the principal who also was the school’s director. The principal probed her on the reasons behind her suspicions, and asked the matron if she had concrete evidence other than her gut feeling.
After explaining that it was mainly her observation on unusual intimacy and the privacy created by the bed sheets around the beds plus reports that several girls sometimes shared beds, the principal dismissed the matron and asked her to leave the matter to her.
A day, a week and eventually a month passed but she heard and saw nothing from the administrator. Gathering her courage and deciding that perhaps the principal had not fully understood her, she confronted the principal again and inquired about what disciplinary action the school would take.
The response she got both shocked and dismayed her. The principal, in no uncertain terms, told her to let the matter rest. The matron was informed that such issues were common and were not unique to that school, and if any disciplinary action was taken, undue attention would be focused on the school and taint its image.
Soon after this meeting, some unrelated personal issues compelled the matron to leave the school. However, conversations that she has since had with people involved with school administration confirmed what the principal had told her . . . unnatural intimacy among schoolgirls was not uncommon.
Nevertheless herein lies our hope: In some schools, this culture had not been allowed to take root. Any hint of such behaviour has been nipped in the bud and anyone found engaging in such unbecoming actions is summarily expelled.
What particularly caught my attention with the matron’s story is how casually we treat such behaviour. We as a society have impotently excused such conduct and whether or not this is a new behaviour trend I cannot tell.
We must confront this moral decay, and the best way to handle is by dealing with individuals. Programmes that encourage our youth to acquire to positive personal values must be developed.
We must ask ourselves why some school students live by a moral creed and some do not. What makes some students ascribe to strong values? What is it that makes them different? What gives them the courage to stand alone and firm in their beliefs? What values will they not compromise?
We need to find answers to these questions before we can tackle the crisis and decide whose responsibility it is to instil these values. Is it the parent, the school, the church or the government?