Beatrice Muyah Mbai, a Houstonian Who Teaches Locally and Acts Globally

A native of Kenya, Beatrice works to help schools in an impoverished village in Kenya and to remind us we may live in Houston, but we are also members of the world community.

Interviewed by Sara G. Stephens

houstonian.1HFM: Tell us a little about yourself and your family.

BM: I am a teacher at The Redd School here in Houston. I am 39 years old and married. I have two boys–one is 11 and going into 6th grade, the other is 9 and going into 4th grade. We moved here in 2009 when my husband got a job here.

HFM: What grade and subject do you teach?

BM: I teach kindergarten, so I teach everything. But math is one of my major strengths, and I do enjoy social studies. One summer I taught something called Mystery Destination, where I show students the different parts of the world. I might play some music, and then ask, “Now, where do you think this music is from?” And it’s always interesting when students hear or see something different, and they say, “No way! That’s from Italy?” or “That’s a Russian song?”

HFM: What made you decide to become a teacher?

BM: I have always loved working with children. To see them learn. To see their eyes pop open when something has clicked. I love those moments. My father always told me education is something nobody can take away from you. When I stopped my IT career, I decided to spread the good word, and I started teaching!

HFM: Where did you live in Kenya?

BM: It was a small town called Kericho. It’s a little larger and more developed than Nduriri, the village my father and grandfather grew up in.

HFM: Nduriri is the village you have been working to help for the last two years. How did that happen?

BM: Nduriri was my grandfather’s home. This village is in the central part of Kenya. It’s a forest and mountain area, tucked in the middle of nowhere. Everything develops around it, but the village itself is overlooked or forgotten.

My dad had been a student at one of the schools I am now helping. When he grew up, he went out of the village to get a job. But when he retired, he went back to do farming. He would be on the road going to farm at 6 am, and he would notice children walking to school, sometimes in the rain, some with no shoes, walking for miles to get to school. It broke his heart. He called me immediately and asked me, “Please, how can we help?” I had to say, “I really don’t know what to do, I’m way out here. How can I possibly help?”

Then, one day I saw somebody disposing books in a recycling bin. I decided to take a look, and saw they were perfectly good books, so at the risk of being called a trash picker, I decided to take them and send them to those schools in Nduriri.

I shipped those books, then I tried another round. I talked to teachers, and I talked to Miss Ellen [Ellen LeBlanc, director of The Redd School] about getting more books. They were a tremendous help.

HFM: And so that’s how the book drive started. As I understand, The Redd School students have collected over 4,000 books and other materials to send overseas.

BM: Yes, and other schools give books, too. But the bulk this year come from The Redd School. The students would go home and ask parents what they could give. And each classroom would collect books, almost like a competition. I would see some Redd school kids asking, “Can we send them my lunchbox, or some food, or my backpack?” and oh, my God, it touched my heart. I was really touched. Then I knew we’re teaching the right things here. It’s quite amazing.

HFM: If it were possible to copy one aspect of Kenya to Houston for you and your family to enjoy here in Houston, what would it be?

The people in Kenya go against all odds to get what they need to get. That’s why the children walk for miles to get an education. Because, believe me, sometimes I wonder, would I have done the same? Or would I have just said, “Forget it! I’ll do some farming.” But they do it. They go against all odds.

HFM: What do you most enjoy about Houston?

BM: We’ve grown to love Houston! People are very hospitable and so giving. This last Saturday, we got a bunch of families to help us pack books to send to Kenya. These people took their Saturday afternoon, and it was a very hot afternoon, and they spent it in a hot warehouse to help us. Everyone looked like they’d had a bucket of water poured over them, they were sweating so bad. But everyone was talking and making jokes, in the midst of all the sweat. Mr. LeBlanc [Will, LeBlanc, of Educational Excellence In America] had like a faucet of water turned on in his head, and he would just say, “Look at me, I’m sweating like a pig!” And he’d laugh and wipe his head and go back to work. Nobody complained. They just did it, because it needed to be done. It nearly brought tears to my eyes.

HFM: It was a real community effort.

BM: Absolutely, it was. T.F. Hudgins, Inc. donated the use of their warehouse, too. They are going to crate the books for us. But we’re still going to be short on the shipping amount.

Mr. LeBlanc will later use those crating materials to build shelves for the schools. He’s going to write people’s names on the crates, so these children will know it’s not a corporation, it’s children helping other children, people helping other people.

HFM: If a student from Nduriri were to spend a day in a Houston classroom, what one thing would most surprise him or her?

BM: Oh, where do I begin? There’s so, so much! But, for starters, most fundamentally, the supplies would really surprise them. When these kids get a pencil, they split it in two, so they can share it. They have no books. Teachers have one class, with one textbook, and the teacher is using that textbook to teach the class.

HFM: If a student from HISD where to spend a day in a Nduriri classroom, what one thing would most surprise him or her?

BM: How happy those kids are. Even in the lack of the basics. The kids are happy. They play outside, make up games–they’re a happy bunch of people. They want to learn as much as they can. Sometimes,even with my own kids, I say, “Let’s get books to read, and they moan and groan and don’t want to read. If I said that to some of those children in Kenya they would literally eat me up!.

HFM: How does the book drive work? Can Houstonians still donate books?

BM: The book drive continues. I hope to do this every year. My idea is to set up a library in these two Nduriri schools. The idea is for them to get a good educations, so they get better jobs and help the whole village–maybe open some industries to create jobs in the area.

We talked to Miss Ellen, and we are hoping to get some teachers sent to the village to update the teachers there. Most have a diploma or less or a certificate. Because we have such highly trained teachers here, we want to share with them. If we do get enough funds, we would like to send teachers there for a week or two, and maybe bring some of the Kenya teachers here. Maybe they can take in new methods of teaching. Teachers here have so much to teach.

HFM: When do you expect to accomplish this part of your effort–sending teachers to Kenya?

BM: To be honest , with the crowdfunding [on indiegogo.com], we hope to send some teachers next year. As soon as we’re able to get money, we’re going. We already have a few teachers who have signed up to go.

HFM: What do you most want young people to learn from you?

BM: We’re not just part of the community in Houston, we’re one big community, this whole world, regardless of where we live. When we take the world as our community, we start developing tolerance and compassion for each other, not just where we live, but in other countries and geographies.

Note: A campaign has been launched on indiegogo, where people can contribute funds to help fund Beatrice’s efforts in Kenya. https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/books-to-kenya#/story

Skip to content