In July this year we started classes at our fifth school, Kelelwa Primary. Kelelwa was our most remote school at that point. It was so far away from Mogotio that classes weren’t taught in Swahili, but in a tribal language called Kale (kah-lay). Let me explain why that is such a big deal.
Africa is very big and very diverse. We are starting in Kenya, which is only a tiny piece of Africa. Even though it is small, inside Kenya alone, there are 44 different tribes, all with their own cultures and languages.
I am from the Kalenjin tribe, and our tribal language is Kale. To communicate with other Kalenjins, we use Kale. If you never leave your village, you only need to know your tribal language.
Kenya’s national language is Swahili. Swahili is used wherever more than one tribe live together, like in a city. In order to leave your village, you probably need to know Swahili. I spoke Swahili when I was young, because I grew up in a town with many tribes.
This part may be surprising. Kenya’s official language is English. The government uses English for everything. If you need English to use the post office, pay your taxes, or run for office. I learned English in school, but didn’t use it much until I came to the states.
The problem is, the languages you know also determine the culture and technology you know. In the city, many Kenyans speak two or three languages. In rural areas, you may only know one.
If you only know your tribal language, you may not know about technology outside of your village. You may not know about microwaves, refrigerators, TVs or computers. That was the case for most students of Kelelwa Primary when we started classes.
At Kelelwa Primary, students could become digital natives with only their tribal language, Kale. Normally, culture and technology are transferred through Swahili or even English, which is why this is such a big deal. We were able to remove the language barrier!