Kenyan students lose fear of Soldiers through PIE
Maj. Deanna Bague, Fort Bliss Public Affairs | Fort Bliss Monitor | 6 June 2008
Through their participation in a Partners in Education program, two students from Kenya who attend MacArthur Elementary-Intermediate School discovered U.S. Soldiers visit schools to help students, not harm them.
PIE is implemented by the El Paso Independent School District to promote community involvement in schools. Fort Bliss is one of EPISD’s largest participants in the program. The 2nd Combined Arms Battalion, 5th Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division (Army Evaluation Task Force), is partnered with MacArthur, and as a result, Soldiers from 2nd CAB visit the school on a regular basis to tutor and mentor students.
Pfc. Timothy Quayle, D Company, 2nd CAB, was assigned to sixth-grader Nyokabi Gitahi, whom he met for the first time at the beginning of the school year. He was unaware of the reasons Nyokabi would perceive him significantly differently than the rest of the students did. Quayle said he thought Nyokabi was withdrawn because she was timid.
“She was shy, she didn’t talk much,” said Quayle. “I stuck with her and helped her whenever she needed it. I met with her two or three times before I had to switch.”
The “switch” resulted when Nyokabi’s father contacted the school and requested for his daughter to be released from the mentorship program.
“In my country, the military does not have that big of a relationship with the schools,” said Nyokabi. “Back in my country, they come there like to search you or if there is something bad. They just stay there until the president orders them to do something.”
Nyokabi shared her fears and concerns with her younger sister, third-grader Wacuka. One day, she finally decided to tell her parents how she felt. The children’s father, Murage Gitahi, said he recalled when his daughter told him about the encounter with Quayle.
“It was like, ‘Uh-oh, what are (Soldiers) coming for?’” he said. “It was very different; we don’t have that kind of undertaking (with Soldiers) in Kenya. It was a new thing for them.”
Gitahi said what helped assure him everything was alright was his experience as a substitute teacher here. He has seen how Soldiers interact with students at different campuses where he has taught.
“I know what (the Soldiers) are doing,” said Gitahi. “I think it’s a very good experience to get to know what the military is doing.”
Wacuka said she also felt awkward and uncomfortable when she saw Soldiers interacting with students at her school.
“It was weird,” said Wacuka. “I thought they were going to come search people … or somebody did something really bad and was in trouble. I started hiding behind my friends. I was really scared.”
Both students said it took time to adjust to the idea that the Soldiers were there for the benefit of the students and to help them achieve good grades and reward them with field trips to Fort Bliss. Nyokabi and Wacuka are honor roll students and said they enjoyed the trips to McGregor Range, N.M., organized by 2nd CAB as a treat for students who made the honor roll.
“(The trips) are really fun ’cause you get to be with military people and see how they work in Iraq and all the gadgets they use,” said Wacuka. “We went rock climbing and got to climb on tanks.”
Wacuka said she would love to see the military in her country take a similar role in the schools, but feels it would take a lot of convincing before it could happen. She said her friends in Kenya would not believe how Soldiers came to her school and helped students with their math, reading and other subjects.
“I think it’s a very good idea,” said Wacuka. “I would try to convince my friends, but they are going to think I am crazy. Like, ‘What are you talking about?’ Cause it’s really different (in Kenya).”