We set out for Kenya on the afternoon of April 20thfrom Austin, TX. We couldn’t wait to see the students again after almost a year apart! After a full day of traveling, we finally touched down in Kenya at 9pm on April 21st, where we were greeted by an overjoyed group of 10 students and Margie, our Kenyan liaison. They’d been waiting for us at the airport for over an hour, buzzing with excitement and ready to give us huge hugs. They also brought musical instruments with them to herald our return, and gave us a grand welcome full of music, dance, and love.
After a few hours of rest at the Wildebeest Hotel in Karen, on the outskirts of Nairobi, we officially began our work in Kenya. We headed to Dream Children’s Home the next morning to meet up with the rest of the students, excited to see how much they had grown in our year apart. We were received at the gate of the home by the children’s band and the scouts of our program. They formed an organized processional ahead of us to lead us to the rest of the students.
It was such a wonderful experience to reunite with our students again. They were waiting in the courtyard of Dream Children’s Home for us, and immediately rushed forward to greet us. For some students, it was their first time meeting their sponsors in person. Everyone was overwhelmed with joy to be together! The students had planned a surprise birthday celebration for one of our sponsors, Meghan. She was the guest of honor for the day and enjoyed a watermelon “cake” with the students. They also presented some traditional songs and dances for her, and we all sang “Happy Birthday” to celebrate another year of her life.
After celebrating Meghan’s birthday, it was time to get to work. We started with the one-on-one counseling sessions with the students, during which time we discussed how the student’s terms, social lives, and career goals were going. We also worked with the students to understand the best ways that we could help each of them continue to be successful. For some students, this meant coming up with study plans and schedules to help them manage their time better. For others, this meant visiting the doctor for illnesses or other conditions that had bothered them during the term. For other students, this meant simply reminding them to keep up the good work. It’s always important to meet each student where they are and help them progress to help them achieve their dreams!
An important part of our trip was a tree planting ceremony held in the memory of our dear friend, Franklin. As you may recall, Franklin was a student we met on our 2018 Kenya trip who showed great promise, but was sadly diagnosed with osteosarcoma. Despite our best efforts to help him overcome the disease, Franklin passed away in January of this year, surrounded by those he loved. Though it was devastating to lose Franklin, we wanted to remember and honor his courageous spirit. To do so, we planted trees at Dream Children’s Home to symbolize Franklin, who continues to grow and thrive in our hearts. We also introduced the Franklin Scholar of the Year Award, which will be given to the students who best exemplify the Moja Tu core values. Our first winners of this award were Patrick, Edwin, and David, three excellent University students who spent much of their time at the end of 2018 caring for Franklin. It seemed only right to honor Franklin’s wonderful friends in his memory, and these three boys clearly demonstrated the value of giving back to others by being with Franklin during his most difficult days. They also served as wonderful role models to our other students. Thank you for all your kindness!
The student reward trip is one of the most anticipated events each year. Students who do well in their classes are taken on field trips with the sponsors to visit exciting and education locations. These trips are not only great learning opportunities, but also help motivate our students to work hard and consider other career paths they may not have thought of before. This year, we took our students to a tea factory where they learned about how tea is processed. Afterwards, we took everyone to the Afrosayari Hotel, where they had a delicious barbeque lunch and also swam in the hotel’s pool. Our students had a ton of fun on the reward trip – thank you to everyone who donated over the last few months to help us fund it!
On Thursday, our students participated in a talent show, where many amazing and hard-earned talents were put on display. Magicians performed card tricks, students competed in an eating contest (shout out to the winner, Peter!), and models strutted their stuff on the “red carpet” with help from the students of a nearby beauty college. These students gave makeup lessons to our students and also talked about the courses offered at their school and opportunities for jobs in the beauty industry. What an educational and fun experience for everyone!
Later that evening, we hosted the long-awaited dance party. This party is always one of our students’ favorite parts of the trip. They do all the preparations themselves by decorating, cooking, DJing, and more. This year, we did something a little different – we invited one of Kenya’s best dance crews, FBI Dance Crew, to perform for our students! FBI’s high-flying stunts and incredible choreography showed our students that with hard work and determination, anyone can turn their passion into a career. After FBI’s performance, the students and sponsors got to show off a few moves of their own. The DJ rocked the air with music and even those who weren’t dancing couldn’t stop themselves from bobbing their heads or tapping their feet.
The next day, everyone was exhausted from dancing, but looking forward to the events of the day. It
was a big day for everyone, as it was time to distribute books, uniforms, and other supplies for the next term, as well as care packages from the sponsors! Each student was able to pick five textbooks of their choice to help them study in their classes. We also handed out new uniforms to the primary school kids at Dream Children’s Home and Sons of Manaseh, another children’s home we partner with. We also awarded laptops and tablets to University students and form 4 graduates based on their performance. And finally, each student was given their sponsor care package, filled with goodies and gifts from their sponsors! The smiles on each student’s face as they opened their care package to see their gifts and read their sponsors letters were all brilliant. All of these items, whether necessary for school or simply meant to make a student smile, all go a long way in making our students feel cared for and motivated. Thank you to everyone who donated uniforms, care packages, and other gifts for the students! Your gifts will be treasured for years to come!
One of the key objectives of the trip is to interview new student applicants for the next school year. Over the course of the first week of the trip, we interviewed almost 70 students from all over Kenya, including Laikipia, Makueni, Naivasha and referrals from students and friends. We had 2 interview panels set up with both Moja Tu board members as well as Kenyan representatives and allotted about 10 minutes per student. As part of the interview, students are assessed on their academics, financial need, personality, communication skills and potential growth. Of the 70 applicants, we narrowed the pool down to 45 students. These 45 students will be going to the next round of due diligence including home validations, photos and references. Once this is complete, we’ll take this input back to the Sponsorship Eligibility Committee for further review and consideration. It’s incredibly humbling to meet some of these students and see how hard working they are given their financial limitations. We wish all the candidates the best of luck!
The next afternoon was the climax of our time with the students: speaking with their sponsors on Skype! While the Skype call is always an awesome opportunity for the students to connect with the people who are helping them go to school, it can be a little intimidating for the students who have not had much practice. In order to help everyone feel a little more comfortable, we talked with the students about what kind of questions they could ask and expect to receive from their sponsors, and also held mock-Skype sessions to help them feel more at ease in front of the computer. Everyone walked out of their Skype calls with a big smile on their face, feeling refreshed and ready to tackle the upcoming term! This was also our last full day with the students; the next morning, everyone packed up and loaded onto the buses to begin the second term of 2019. Good luck, everyone!
The second week of our trip was devoted to touring around the country, visiting our student’s schools and homes and also interviewing more potential Moja Tu candidates. Mirera Primary School in Naivasha is the largest primary school in the country with over 3,400 students. Here, we participated in the opening of a new library, which was funded by the alliance of several organizations operating in Kenya, including Moja Tu, Story Moja, Enashipai, and the Nobelity Project. We sponsored 5 students from this school in 2018 and interviewed about 15 students for this year’s applicant pool. Kathy gave a speech on the importance of education and also encouraged the students to keep working hard in their studies. We were thrilled to see this repository of knowledge available to these sweet young students, and we hope the library sees many generations of students for years to come!
Next on the agenda, we paid visits to our partner schools: Graceland High Schools, Tumutumu Girls High School, Baricho Boys High School, and Zetech University. At each school, we met with the principals and were given tours around the campuses. This was a great opportunity to see our students on their turf, and we loved seeing everyone hard and work in their classes!
Visiting the families, homes and neighborhoods in which our students were raised was an incredibly humbling experience. The gratitude from the parents of our wonderful students was profound. Though these parents were often struggling to make ends meet, they still expressed their thanks by giving us gifts, including 12 chickens, two goats and a rabbit! In Laikipia, we visited a Samburu home, where our student Sarah comes from. The Samburu people share a similar culture to that of the Maasai tribe, and formal education in not highly regarded. Usually, girls are married off at a young age and the boys spend most of their time tending to the family livestock and guarding the tribe from raids by neighboring tribes. Sarah’s sponsor, Teri, was able to meet her mother, who thanked her profusely for helping to give her daughter a better future.
We spent our last night in Kenya at the Ark Lodge, located deep in the Aberdare National Park. The Ark overlooks a large watering hole, which is frequented by many different animal species throughout the day and into the night. We were able to see mighty buffalo and elephants, dainty antelope and gazelles, the intimidating giant forest hog, and the diminutive wood hyrax (whose closest living relative, by the way, is the elephant!).
As the sun set on the watering hole, we felt at peace knowing that we were truly doing something to help these deserving students. Kenya is so rich in beautiful landscapes, animals, and people. We can’t wait to come back to Kenya next year to reunite with our amazing students, take in the gorgeous scenery, and continue our mission to provide students with the education they deserve. One Child. One Education. One Future. Just One.