Educating African grandmothers inspired by Priscilla Sitienei of Kenya

Embracing second chance. Who says those that missed out the first time around are too old to be educated? Gogo Priscilla Sitienei is a living evidence to education being life long adventure meant to benefit all ages.

“The only person who is educated is the one who has learned how to learn and change.” Carl Rogers.

Watching Gogo, I can only imagine her curious mind sprung to life. I know too well how many African mothers who missed out first time around adored education, in fact it is those who fall into this category that would easily forgo social life to educate their children including their girls.

My maternal grandmother was the sixth of seven wives, she had five surviving children with my mother being the second child, by the time mother came along she had no chance – not even a day of formal education. All her younger siblings had the best of education Nigeria has to offer at the time.

On many occasion, my mother would say ‘aimowe f’iya je mi’ – being uneducated deprived me of many things (sort of). Not being able to read and write bothered her the most.

She especially disliked having to get others read personal message.

A few years ago, after being assessed by the doctor. Dr. P turned to me to explain my mother’s health condition, my mother sat quietly, she didn’t interrupt but I could tell she was not pleased. As I tried to explain to her, she said to be quiet and faced the doctor herself – dilemma, I signed.

She got it all out, all in Yoruba, Dr. P did not understand a word of Yoruba. Rather than her nodding along to the doctor’s report, she made me translate to the doctor so the doctor could respond to her directly with me doing the translation.

I was about to give up in the beginning because I thought she didn’t trust I would give her accurate reports but it wasn’t about trust, she just wanted to be carried along when matter that concerned her was being discussed. So she did the Yoruba mother’s well-known threat ‘if I were your mother, I want you to tell this man exactly what I say’ – oh dear!

Dr P. was incredible, my mother asked many questions that I would not have thought of. All involved left  happy in the end.

My mother can be tiny weeny difficult to teach how to read one on one, oh well, that perhaps shows my impatient with teaching a 70+ mummy. She reads Yoruba bible, sounding out each letters.

Seeing Gogo here, I can see how mine would love to be in a group setting (perhaps with adults of similar age group) where she could learn to do simple arithmetic on paper.

Well done Gogo Priscilla! Inspiring even at 90 years old.

6 thoughts on “Educating African grandmothers inspired by Priscilla Sitienei of Kenya

    1. Really? I didn’t know that! My knowledge of ‘Gogo’ was from reading a South African based author and now with Kenyan.

      Interesting, wonder where ‘Gogo’ originated from? Well for Yoruba, you know its Mama Agba – Elderly mother


  1. “Education is not the be all and “end all”, nevertheless it is important.
    The account of your mother and yourself at the doctor’s surgery was very intimate and detailed.

    I found the story of your mother foregoing education, a little sad because it is still the case today, that in certain parts of Nigeria, educating your daughters is not a priority. Education offers choices, freedom and opportunity, why would you ever want to deny any of your children that opportunity is beyond me, but then again I don’t have children. I would have thought it would be natural for a parent to want the best for their children and education is one of those things that can be a real game changer in a child’s life.

    Makes me even more appreciative of education, even thought at school, I was never enamoured by it.

    As for educating grandmothers, it is only for the grandmother to be tough enough to ignore all those who have nothing better to do than mock her efforts. She will have the last laugh, when she is able to more independent and govern her affairs, and make more informed decisions.

    Thank you for this account.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you jco.

      In my mother’s era, not many girls were educated especially if you were from a polygamous family which my mother was one. I have many aunties from the same era that were Standard six educated – very good with better quality than today’s primary schools.
      In that era, the custom was to have as many children as possible so as to help in the farm, but along the line things change, education is proving popular as it brings more opportunities, however for the likes of my paternal grandfather, he was already knee deep in baby factory so choice he must made and sadly, it was the daughters who get hit.

      Today in the same region of the country, things have changed. Most people will educate both genders equally – entirely different story with getting foot into decent job though.

      I know many grandmothers would love the second chance even if only to record accurately their sales as most are traders… Oh well, most have developed thick skin anyways. They have their own way of getting by, they rely on memory to note those who owe them.


  2. This a very heartfelt and powerful post, which speaks to the enduring power and importance of education and life-long learning. More importantly, however, it also displays the wisdom and dignity of your mother and the beauty of the parent-child relationship. Sometimes, for my research, I have to rely on professional translators to attend meetings and provide consecutive interpretation to help me participate fully in bilingual/multilingual discussions, so (to a certain degree, at least) I can empathise with the situation your mother faced with the doctor having to wait to have key information de-coded to aid her understanding of the situation. My regular interpreter has always told me that his role is to serve as an invisible mediator…and the most respectful thing during these multiple translations is for the giver and recipient of information to maintain eye contact (and, thus, a semblance of levelling) with one another. Without doubt, your mother is a wise and inspirational woman of courage. Thank you, so much, for sharing these poignant thoughts and insights into your lives together.

    Liked by 1 person

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