Free the Kids: Author of Freshman Book Visits PSNK

By Ryan McLaughlin

UPPER BURRELL, Pa. – Robin Wiszowaty, author of the freshmen summer reading book “My Maasai Life,” came to Penn State New Kensington on October 19 to discuss her experience.  She explained how she never was happy at home.  She was frustrated with her parents, and she grew angrier and angrier.  To relieve the anger, she drowned herself in activities at school.  Finally, when she was at the University of Illinois, she realized that she couldn’t keep it up.  Therefore, she decided to leave home and ended up in Kenya.

In Kenya, she was adopted by a family and became the fifteenth person to live in their tiny mud hut.  Robin was too tall to stand up inside the mud hut, and she slept on a bed of sticks with the other children.  Every day, she had chores to do.  Since she was a woman, she had to help get water from the spring every morning.  Then, they would gather wood for their fires and attend to every chore.  Finally, she would get to go to bed, only to wake up and do it all over again.  If there was a drought, Robin and her mother would have to get up before sunrise and traipse through the tall grass infested with ravenous animals to retrieve one jug of water.

For Robin, seeing the statistics come to life interested her.  For once, she understood why so many African children did not go to school.  The parents had to pay a lot of money to send their children to school.  Finally, Kenya had a new government that decided that education should be a priority.  They made primary school free, but the parents had to pay for the construction of more schools.  Suddenly, children flooded the schools, and what new schools were built were made out of mud and sticks.  While these schools weren’t stable, they were full of children.

Then a group called Free the Children entered Kenya to help build dedicated schools.  The group was started by a 12-year-old boy who was troubled by a news article about a 12-year-old boy in Pakistan who had been murdered for speaking out against child labor.  After reading the article, the boy brought it into his school to show his classmates.  Then, he founded the group with his classmates, and since then it has grown into a much larger movement.  Eventually, the group ended up in Kenya, building schools and helping educate children.

This session helped the freshmen truly understand the novel more.    Afterward, Ms. Wiszowaty told the students she plans to return to Kenya, to continue her work.

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