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An elder’s letter to the children of Kenya

By XN Iraki | October 11th 2020 at 00:00:00 GMT +0300

Children play at a village in Lessos, Nandi County in July following the closure of schools due to Covid-19. [Stafford Ondego, Standard]

Nothing fascinates me more than a child’s smile or laughter, it’s full of innocence, life and hope. Childhood equates us, it does not matter if you are in the countryside or urban areas, nor if you are in affluence or poverty.

In childhood, the hopes and dreams of a generation are encapsulated. In that state of innocence, a serious country builds its foundation, its tomorrow. I always wonder which schools should be better equipped, universities or kindergartens? Yet, we recognise primary schools particularly in the rural areas by their dilapidation.

I know you have been at home for seven months, it’s a long time. Taken away from school, from classmates and your dreams. Think of the Form Ones, full of joy after joining secondary school, or Form Fours about to sit for exams and join campus to actualise their life long dreams. It must have been traumatic.

For seven months, you have been wondering when schools will reopen. Some of you kept yourselves busy through online classes, playing with friends or learning new skills such as cooking, knitting or a new game.

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The vast majority did nothing but wait. We hope you did not marry or stray from righteousness. I know for sure you fed well and some of you will have to buy new uniforms.

The initial fear over Covid-19 has subsided. Human beings adapt to any situation, that is why civilisation has persisted this far against odds. We have gone through wars, other pandemics and come on top. We shall overcome Covid-19 too.

No generation chooses when to be born. You take the triumphs and the problems you find. While  you fear Covid-19 taking you out of school, you are enjoying unprecedented technology; from your e-classes to phones, microwave oven, piped water, washing machines, cars, planes and other conveniences that past generations could only dream about.

But you are young and have no recollection of an age without technology. It’s likely you will take that for granted - to the chagrin of your parents. I hope during the Covid-19 break, your parents  took time to tell you the story of their lives,  how far they have come. I hope that has inspired you; you will not get such a story from your TV or movie.

Please talk to your grandparents and those who came before you. If you know where you came from, you can go farther. For now, forget about early man, from Zinjanthropus to Neanderthal.

Now schools are about to open, we can debate later if closing them was the best decision. Beyond the past, reflect on tomorrow. Where will you be after Covid-19 runs its course? Tomorrow must come, the sun will continue rising and you will continue growing. Soon, adulthood and its responsibilities will catch up. Prepare, prepare.

I have some unsolicited piece of advice. Do not use Covid-19 as a dustbin for  all the problems you face today and after school. Do not use Covid-19 as an excuse. The men and women you blame today, it does not matter their position in society, might not be there when you are an adult. It is very tempting to shy away from responsibilities and blame Covid-19 even for unrelated problems.

Please go back to the rhythm of the school. Believe me, Covid-19 or not, a good education will remain the conveyor belt to your dreams. Returning to normal is one way to shame Covid-19. Go back to your dreams, they were just postponed by a few months, not invalidated.

Lost time

You may have to work longer hours to recover the lost time. See that as fun and a challenge, like Jerusalema. You will learn to use your time more efficiently now and future.

Covid -19, if you are keen, has  taught us some  great lessons. One, time is scarcer than we thought. Everyone now knows what it means to lose a year, both emotionally and financially. Now we appreciate teachers and their hard work.

On the economic front, we now know which jobs are resilient, that can withstand a pandemic such as Covid-19. Can you pursue such jobs? 

Despite your tender age, you can learn a lesson or two from your parents, relatives and neighbours. How did they react to the economic slowdown? Did they start a side hustle or they had one? Some of these major lessons are not in any textbooks; you observe, you enquire, you learn.

Covid-19 may have planted fear in us, but it has also planted reality. Now you know the tomorrow in our minds, and the real tomorrow can be different. Now you know it pays to prepare for the unexpected.

Covid-19 could inadvertently make you a better adult, more attuned to a fast-changing environment. It might have woken you to the fact that life is not an endless pursuit of fun, there is time to be serious.

Think loudly, we are more concerned about what we see - roads, skyscrapers, phones, cars, TVs , stars, moon, sun... Covid-19 has taught us to think of what we can’t see such as virus, fear, empathy and our own mortality.

Full of promise

Covid-19 ushered a bold new world, it’s the world your generation will inherit. It will need a new set of skills, new thinking beyond the textbooks and exams. We hope you will use the Internet to seek new ideas, relevant to ever-changing world, ideas that will put you ahead of the pack and make you globally competitive.

In good faith, I welcome you to the post-Covid era. It’s full of promise. Beyond the fear of the virus lies a new beginning. New careers, a new sense of urgency, new dreams and new realities. Believe me, it’s still a beautiful world.

Please dust up your uniform and run to school, you have rested enough. Just look at the sunrise and its promise of a new day. It’s morning  in your life. Write to me in 2050 AD and let’s compare notes on how we handled life after Covid-19.

Finally, do not allow Covid-19 to dim that innocent laughter or smile. What you do in school will to some extent determine if more smiles and laughter will follow you.

- The writer is associate professor at the University of Nairobi

Covid 19 Time Series


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