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Is it shyness, timidity or just low self-esteem?

Self esteem. “Teacher Martin?” Onyango calls me in a low voice, and this startles me. Onyango is looking at me with those shy eyes, and while he has never looked at me straight in the face leave alone ask any questions, I hide my shock behind a radiant smile. I want to motivate his timid soul to go on and open up to me. You see, I volunteer with PACE that seeks to bridge the gap created by shortage of teachers especially in the low income areas and I am currently at Tom Mboya Primary School in Dandora. This is the genesis of my being called Teacher Martin. It has been quite an experience…

“How do you prepare for exams in such a short time?” Onyango enquires. Onyango is one of the brightest boys in standard 8, but he has this innate phobia of asking questions…this introvertedness while talking to senior people.

No one to answer them

Onyango represents children who have questions but have no one to answer them. These kids are afraid of asking questions and sometimes like Onyango; they need reassurance that it’s okay. He is one of the few who are courageous. There are many more that have questions but due to their social backgrounds, have the inner fear of standing in front of their colleagues to say something.

Standing up to speak is somewhat a tall order

Then there’s also Joanita…she’s among the brightest kids in her class but standing up to speak is somewhat a tall order. She can’t bring herself to speak up and say anything let alone pray in a group of only five. She would rather have punishments than do so. “Stand before the rest and have embarassment in front of the rest”. That’s Joanita’s situation.

This may seem like a small problem, but as Joanita grows up, she will face a big identity crisis problem, as a result. This generally presents itself as a huge penance  that has a price later in life. If she goes on to high school like that, her inability to speak is highly likely to have her join a “clique”. There is no lack of them at that level. These cliques in high school provide a sense of belonging which the quiet ones generally crave. For her it would be the need to satisfy her inner person, to be a part of something, and to feel loved.

To her teachers are not her friends

As this script generally goes – she might get into drugs and take up other unruly behavior in school. Yes, the teachers speak to them and other motivational speakers come and inspire the students BUT – to her teachers are not her friends and are definitely not “cool”. In this wanting to belong because of all that’s retracted inside, all she wants is to be seen by her peers as equally smart. Or do I say “mjanja”. At this age no one wants others to see them as a “mbleina”( misfit ).

This trajectory will not only affect her emotional, academic and spiritual life, but also her personal growth in terms of talent. It all starts early and the roots of this is traceable to children who lack self-assurance and who have never had the opportunity to be themselves.Who are shy and cannot take a stand or say something.

Parents should encourage their children to speak up

I believe guardians or parents should encourage their children to speak up at an early age like during family gatherings. Something as simple as asking the children to pray or to contribute to a discussion. Asking them their opinion and really listening. Even just to encourage them to participate in activities in church to read the bible or pray or sing. These will slowly help them overcome and deal with their fear of speaking and lack of confidence.

Guardians should also assure their kids of their love from an early age and even in their teens – every kid needs it. They need to know that they are special and be told that all the time. So that they are coming from a place of love as they go about life. Parents should also try not to be too authoritative all the time, but listen and talk to them as their friends. This helps for it is always good for kids to trust parents as they trust their friends.

Children are meant to be seen and not heard?

Joanita has always been quiet, but has questions she can’t ask; her parents might see this as normal, because children are meant to be seen and not heard? Being quiet is not bad, but being shy and afraid to say or ask something really is.

I remember, I was like Joanita, very bright in class. But tell me to stand in front and speak… I would have cold shivers and tremble. Not only my voice – but my whole body. I spent most of my high school days like that to the extent that my class teacher only knew my name when I was about to complete school.

He would only submit when his parents were around him

I was lucky that when I got to form one, Christian Union got me first, and I remained like that. I didn’t veer off into joining strange company. But not all the time do kids get lucky like that. For instance one of my colleagues from high school had that very innate phobia of talking to authorities. He lacked confidence, leading to low self-esteem. Sadly – he wasn’t as lucky as I was. He would only submit when his parents were around him. But when he got to school he would get coerced and do “things”. Right now that he is in campus, he has freedom to do anything. It is not a pretty story…

This is sad and I trace its roots right back to when we were younger. I am not saying that all cases are like this, of course there are some who get lost out of their own ignorance purely.

We need to encourage every young person to speak up

We need to capture children when they are still young. My interaction with my students exposes me to the fact that many students get lost when they are really young. We must do something about it in whichever small way we can. Mine is by way of me volunteering to teach in the slum areas as I wait to go to university. It’s up to the guardian, teachers and the society at large. We must do something.

Nick Vujicic, the renowned evangelical motivation speaker talks about how were it not for his parents assuring him that they loved him the way he was and that he was special, he would have committed suicide. We need to encourage every young person to speak up, ask questions and be very confident. That is our call and we must rise to this call. All of us.

Martin Karanja Wairimu is an enthusiast in leadership and community matters. He is currently volunteering as a teaching Assistant at Tom Mboya Primary School. Karanja is the founder member of Ready Aiders Foundation as well as an aspiring poet and spoken word artist. He is set to join Africa Leadership University to pursue Computer science. Karanjamartin298@yahoo.com.

Useful links
Developing Your Child’s Self Esteem

12 Ways to Raise a Confident Child

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