“When I was 43, a farm wife, and a mother of three, I decided to go to college to get my teaching degree,” said Evelyn Hershey. “Back then, I had no idea that I would ever teach in Nairobi, Kenya!”
Following the death of her husband in 2013, Hershey served a yearlong term with EMM in Nairobi from 2015–2016. But although Hershey officially worked as a hostess at Amani Gardens Inn, her background in art education came into play in surprising ways.
Shortly after arriving in Kenya, Hershey met Liz Gitanga at Amani Gardens Inn’s monthly hymn sing. Gitanga knew of several local homeschooling mothers who were in search of an art teacher — and Hershey’s 1994 education degree from Lincoln University and over 20 subsequent years of teaching art in Atglen, Pa., made her a perfect candidate.
Homeschooling has gained popularity among the middle class in Kenya due to widespread criticism of the public school system, said Hershey. She began teaching art lessons to a few children on her front porch, and then was invited to teach a class at a network for expatriate and local homeschoolers. Over the year, her class size doubled from 30 to 60. “They had to find a larger room for me to teach art,” she said.
Hershey’s friend Gitanga directs a small school called Kids 2 Kids for children from slum areas of Nairobi. She invited Hershey to bring her art lessons to the school. Hershey found this a more challenging teaching experience because some of the children spoke only Swahili. “It was very rewarding to work with them in a tin-roofed building, sitting in old church pews at wobbly tables. They remain in my heart!” she said.
Hershey’s curriculum included basic drawing and painting, collage, sculpture with modeling clay, and projects made with natural materials like seed pods, leaves, and stones. Her students were excited to create with high-quality American construction paper delivered by Hershey’s grandchildren on a family visit.
In addition to teaching art, Hershey was also invited to conduct two peer mediation training workshops for local teachers. Hershey’s career included many years as a peer mediation coordinator in Atglen. Jodi Mikalachki, Mennonite Central Committee’s Education Director for Kenya, helped coordinate the workshops.
Hershey was delighted to teach techniques for resolving conflict in a school setting, and said the teachers were engaged and excited to bring the techniques back to their schools. Hershey hopes to return to Kenya next year to observe how peer mediation has been adapted to Kenyan culture, and to provide follow-up training.
At the end of her time in Nairobi, Hershey took some personal time to indulge in her favorite art form, ceramics, at an Eastleigh pottery studio. She retrieved her glazed and fired pot the day before returning to the U.S. — a fitting keepsake for a year of art in Kenya.
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