What makes you a better teacher is what you give to your students, says a Washington area social studies teacher who has tried to broaden his students' vision outside the classroom. The teacher is from an African region where education is considered a luxury. As VOA's June Soh reports, he himself has provided a heroic example of setting goals and working for one's dreams.
Joseph Lekuton is bidding farewell to students at the school where he has taught social studies for 10 years. "I feel sad. Sure there is emotions. But I also realized that I have to do other things. I have to help my people."
He is going back to his native country, Kenya, for a different calling. While teaching at the Langley School in McLean, Virginia, Luketon ran for the Kenyan parliamentary by-election in July and was elected. Before leaving, he spoke to his students and their parents. "When you come from a country that does not have a lot of resources, you are forced to go elsewhere to seek for help."
Born to illiterate nomadic parents, Lekuton cannot tell his exact age. He is the only one in his family who finished high school. Then he won a full scholarship to St. Lawrence University in New York -- except for a plane ticket. "Villages got together, collected cows, goats, sheep, camels; sold them and bought me a ticket."
He has always been seeking ways to give back and to help improve the lives of poor village people in Kenya. Now he can do more. "You can make policies that do benefit them, give your services to people."
As a Maasai tribesman-turned-teacher, he has also tried to open the eyes of his students, who come largely from affluent backgrounds, and have them realize some people's worlds are far different from theirs.
Every summer he has led some of his students and their parents to Kenya to learn. "Of course, very much, very much, very much. They learned a lot."
Adam Heins is a fifth grader. He went to Kenyan villages last summer. "I learned that we should appreciate what we have. We are very fortunate. There are lots of people in the world that are less fortunate than us."
The Langley School students initiated a program called "Cows for Kids" to raise money to buy livestock for nomadic families. Now the program receives support from children and schools throughout the U.S.
Luketon has had an impact on the parents too. After the trip to Kenya, some of the parents helped him bring clean water systems to poor nomadic villages and founded the Nomadic Kenyan Children's Educational Fund or NKCEF, which pays the yearly tuition for 250 nomadic high school students.
Doris Cottam is the head of the Langley School. "He set an example of life, of goal setting, and of honor. He is a man of integrity and a man of his word. Those are wonderful things for children to have particularly when they are in seventh and eighth grade where they want to learn, they want to gain experience."
Joseph Lekuton offers words of wisdom to his students before departing to live out his own dream. "Keep focused and think about others. Not about yourself all the time."
Lekuton says he is committed to serving his county, to bring its people better facilities and education, and he says he has a global vision to connect people everywhere. He assures his students, however, that he will keep in touch with them.