The Face of a Heartbreaking Story
I was in a hurry to the hall where I was to speak, thus no time to look at the photo that had been taken of me and the four students. When I at last saw the photo, I was sad. I felt insensitive as I noticed that I was the only one smiling. None of the orphans that posed with me had a reason to smile.
Two days before the students were brought to meet me, I entered the office of the principal where they all had attended elementary school. It was the school I left in 1974. Without revealing who I was, I asked the principal how the 8th grade students had performed and how many were to join high school (in Kenya, not all 8th grade students pass the high school entrance exam). He had the list of the students with him and started showing me the names of those who passed.
He reached the name of one girl and fell silent. When he gathered himself, all he said, “Yii niyo mwaka wa keli wa kelitu kaa kwika mutiani uu nesa, indi kaithi sukulu.” This is the second year for this girl to pass this exam so well, but she will not be going to high school.
Pauline (15), the girl in a red sweater, is an orphan. When her parents died, she was left under the care of poor grandparents. They too died and left her with a maternal aunt. In 2009 she sat for the national 8th grade exam and passed but lacked the minimum $300 (last year it was $250) tuition and fees to join high school. The solution was to have her repeat 8th grade. Because primary school education is free, the hope was that she would spend a few more years before she is big enough to get married. In 2010 she passed again and without help from a well-wisher, she was again destined to be in the 8th grade in 2011.
Mueke (15), the girl in blue, is a victim of the complexities of illiteracy and poverty. This girl too was supposed to repeat 8th grade until “maturity.”
Kimani (18), the tall boy, is a sophomore. A child of a widow, Kimani had passed the exam several times before he decided to go to a high school near his home at 17, but he spent more time at home than in school due to lack of tuition and fees.
Dominic (18), the boy on my left, visually impaired, started school at the age of 10. His poverty level is so devastating that the school had to adopt him. He became the first blind student from our school to pass and secure admission at a prestigious school for the blind. Misery spares no one.
I, too, was a freshman in high school at 18, but for reasons other than being orphaned and without someone to pay for my education. I was born and raised by two parents. It’s hard for me to imagine life of a poor child without parents in Africa where there are no governmental support systems. As a father of three girls, my heart trembles when I think of a girl waiting to be big and get married in 8th grade instead of joining high school.
Yet if someone makes a small sacrifice of $300/year, a destitute girl or a boy has hope of becoming a teacher, a medical doctor, engineer, police, public leader, accountant or preacher to name a few opportunities for Kenyan students who are privileged to attend high school.
I had no choice but to help these children. The two girls are now in the same high school and each had a B+ in their first term’s performance report. Kimani, after being in school for three months without interruption, was number 24 out of 212 students in his class. I have not yet received Dominic’s report.
To help, mail a check to Caring Hearts and Hands of Hope Inc, Idaho United Credit Union. P.O Box 7152, Boise, ID 83707