Hop, Step, and Jump: How a Kids’ Game Is Reflected in Scholarships May 12, 2016  by      

By: Joshua Omweno, CFK Intern

Hiking through a maze of tin and mud-thatched structures in Kibera—and that’s what it is: hiking—makes walking for a mile seem much longer. I hastily race behind Peter Shikanga, carefully balancing on the steep rocks close to the river as we make our way to Lindi village on the southern edge of Kibera. The river is flooded today, not because it rained but because broken sewage pipes upstream are spilling their contents into the river, further polluting the river and exposing the residents to water-borne diseases. As we cross, we hop, step and jump on the rocks like little kids to avoid the graying water.

Peter, my travel companion, is a night guard at a shop in Hurlingham, a small commercial center within the Nairobi suburb of Kilimani. He earns around $60 a month and is the breadwinner for his family. He has 3 children, but he is also a guardian to Sheila Minayo, an orphaned girl he has taken care of since she was in her diapers. On our way to his home, he narrates with nostalgia how quickly she has grown. He has raised her ever since her single mother passed on when she was a baby. He regards her as one of his own.

"The base," a compound in Kibera.And Sheila is the reason why I’m traveling all this way. She has applied for a scholarship from CFK, and I’m going to interview her to see if she is a good fit. Carolina for Kibera’s Education Program offers scholarships to promising students from Kibera in need of financial assistance for secondary school. We believe that education is the cornerstone for a successful future, and that it should be accessible by students with a demonstrated passion for learning.

After making the umpteenth turn, we finally arrive at “the base,” a shaded area in Lindi village, thanks to a courtyard of large baobab trees where young men spend most of their time talking politics, football or relaxing. “The base” is only a few meters from Peter’s home. We finally arrive at a leaning one-room structure where Peter resides; the sunlight reveals the gaping holes in the structure despite their best effort to cover the room with newspapers.

I meet Sheila, who appears eager to interview for a scholarship, full of nervous excitement. Sheila has already been interviewed once in our office to determine her drive and level of need. After brief introductions, the second part of the process begins: the home visit, to determine a family’s level of need and commitment to their child’s education.

After a successful interviewing process, I leave the humble home of Peter, with both him and Sheila having high hopes. Sheila was the best student in her school during their Kenya Certificate of Primary Exams (like the SAT in the US). Though she did not meet our average score, what makes Sheila stand out from the pack of applicants for our scholarship is her determination, proven leadership skills, and desire to learn. And those qualities make her one of our top contenders.

Fast forward to present day: in a packed room of 22 eager parents and 5 CFK officials, the room breaks into applause as Julian Rowa, CFK Executive Director, informs the parents that their children have been awarded CFK high school scholarships for a maximum period of 4 years. He further reminds the parents of the importance of community service and that they should take charge of the change they want to see in the community.

Sheila Minayo, CFK scholarship recipient and avid high schooler.

Speaker after speaker narrates the importance of investing in the young people especially by providing scholarships and leadership development. I look back at Sheila’s story and get a warm feeling knowing that CFK has invested in a young girl who was likely to drop out of school if she couldn’t find financial assistance. There are no safety nets or government programs to support students who go to secondary schools, and informal schools (schools found in the informal settlements that are inadequately equipped, mostly led by individuals of faith based organizations) do not have the money to extend private scholarships to students.

I take the challenge of developing young leaders such as Sheila with pride as I was also a CFK scholarship recipient. Through students like these, I am reminded that life is at times like “Hop, Step, Jump,” a little game I used to play in Kibera as a kid. Providing the scholarship makes the Hop, developing character and leadership is a big step towards a bright future, and becoming a positive influence to the community is the final jump. When you land after that jump, you have closed the loop and helped so many others begin to change their lives for the better.

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