Kenyan students soar through scholarship awards for higher education
January 2011 marked a new beginning for 27-year-old Robert Mwenda. When his parents passed away during his childhood he was forced to drop out of school and fend for himself by doing odd jobs. The streets became his new home and other street children the only family he knew. Destitute and dejected, Mwenda had to postpone his dreams indefinitely.
Only one thing stood between him and his dreams: education. When a well-wisher offered to help him complete primary school under the Kenya government’s Free Primary Education Program, Mwenda jumped at the chance and managed to pass his exams. Although he was offered a place at a good high school, his new guardian was no longer able to provide for the increased school expenses. Once again Mwenda’s future seemed bleak.
But by March 2012, Mwenda was among thousands of Kenyan children who joined their new high schools to begin a four year secondary education. He had earned himself a scholarship through the Wings to Fly Program, and this time, nothing would stop him from becoming a medical doctor. “This scholarship has opened doors for me and I am determined to become a good doctor so that I can help others in my community”, he says.
A public-private partnership to benefit bright but needy Kenyan students
Wings to Fly Program is a public-private partnership agreement between the Equity Group Foundation, Mastercard Foundation, UKaid and USAID. The program helps academically gifted but disadvantaged children to pursue secondary and tertiary education by awarding them full scholarships that include tuition, school supplies, transport and upkeep. The $67 million initiative is implemented by the Equity Group Foundation and will provide a full secondary education for 7,300 young Kenyans by 2019. USAID’s contribution will offer comprehensive scholarships, leadership training, and mentoring to at least 2,166 orphans and vulnerable children over the next five years.
“Our selection process ensures that only deserving students who have excelled in their national primary exams get scholarships. The positions are widely advertised in the media as well as through community and religious organizations and decisions are made by a District Scholarship Selection Board of 12 local representatives” says Dr. Lucy Kithome a Project Mangement Specialist at USAID.
While free primary education has helped more Kenyan children access basic schooling, many from poor backgrounds find themselves unable to get a higher education. Without the proper training and skills to achieve their career aspirations a large number wind up unemployed or unable to access credit facilities for entrepreneurship. Youth unemployment is a growing problem in the country, currently estimated at 40% by the Africa Economic Outlook. By giving more youth a chance at a better education this program helps Kenyans drive their own development agenda. It helps them to break the cycle of poverty and dependence leading to a nation with educated, self-reliant and productive youths.
Equity Bank manages the funds ensuring that the scholars’ fees are paid on time. The bank also helps them to open bank accounts through which they receive their stipends. The students are encouraged to save and are mentored to boost their self-esteem, monitor their progress, and encourage them to rise above their circumstances. “This program really gives the scholars wings to fly by giving them education as well as mentoring. This gives them proper role models and instills a sense of responsibility and giving back to society. Equity personnel also visit the scholars regularly to see how they are doing in school” says John Kipkemboi, the mentorship program officer at Equity Bank.
Jackline, a 14- year old beneficiary from Kaaga Girls High School agrees. ‘I will work hard to become a bank manager someday because this program has exposed me to positive influences that inspire me’ she says. Fifteen-year-old Sabal is working hard so that she can help her siblings who were not as fortunate as she was to get a secondary education, while Edwin who graduates with a Bachelor of Education degree next year is keen to help his future students achieve their academic potential. These scholars are now dreaming again and are driven by the need to change their lives and that of those around them.
“When you see a child in desperate need the only way you can really help them is to give them a chance to make something of themselves”, says Dr. Kithome. “With education these orphans and vulnerable children can escape abuse and reliance on hand-outs to soar above their circumstances.”