18 February 2004
The goodwill ambassador of the U.N. children's agency, Harry Belafonte, has been in Kenya this week to assess the country's education system, one year after primary education became tuition free.
The celebrated singer described to reporters his shock at what he called the abject squalor he witnessed on his tour of schools in low-income neighborhoods of the Kenyan capital. "It was for me deeply, deeply disturbing to go through the slums of Nairobi. There are some aspects to that slum experience that I cannot translate in ways that are simply dismissed by the absence of resources. There is a humanity here that is involved that runs deeper than the simple utterance of, we just do not have the money," he said.
Mr. Belafonte says too many people in Kenya and abroad are indifferent to the suffering of slum-dwellers and need to become part of the solution to improve the lives of the poor.
Mr. Belafonte has been on a week-long visit to Kenya, during which he met with President Mwai Kibaki, Vice President Moody Awori, child welfare officials, U.N. staff, government ministers and others to assess Kenya's primary education system.
Since primary school fees were abolished one year ago, more than one million additional children have entered the school system.
The singer says Kenya's free primary school campaign has helped vulnerable children, especially girls and AIDS orphans, and can be a model for other African countries.
Mr. Belafonte says he will report back to the head office of UNICEF on his findings, and will be involved in an international fundraising campaign to help the country continue its tuition-free primary education program.