By Tom Bode, President
WSI Board Members Tom Bode, Ruby Buchholtz, and Tony Mecum traveled to Nakuru in June 2016. Each of us will write a blog post or two about our experience there. This first one is by me, expect more soon!
Standing on the curb outside the Nairobi airport at one o’clock in the morning, wishing I knew where the taxis were, I wondered if the whole trip would be a disaster. I had been away from Kenya for three years and I was nervous for this return trip. Was I prepared to guide fellow board members Ruby and Tony on their first trip to Kenya and would they leave feeling inspired? What would the sponsored students think of us? It was also a test of the organization’s viability: would the people we relied on in Kenya be willing to continue volunteering for the organization?
I should not have worried. On our first day, we went to St. Paul’s Primary School, the impoverished public school in the slums where our students receive their kindergarten through 8th grade education. My friend Millie, a teacher at St. Paul’s, was overjoyed to see us. “My son has come home!” she exclaimed, and hugged us all warmly. There had been no reason to be nervous — we were among friends.
Millie acted as our guide during the week we spent in the city of Nakuru, where WSI programs are based. In addition to teaching English classes and serving as Vice-Principal at St. Paul’s, she’s an invaluable member of the WSI team. Millie coordinates all of the essential activities that happen in Nakuru, from paying school fees to ensuring that the parents support their children’s education. She is also a second mother to all nine students, regularly dispensing good advice, tough love, and home-cooked meals.
Before the trip, I was concerned that, as an unpaid volunteer, we were taking Millie’s hard work for granted. Did she want to continue to work for us for such minimal compensation? A few days after we arrived, I asked her: did she want to continue running our on-the-ground operations? Was she willing to help us grow, even if it meant more students to look after, to shop for, and to host at her house for end-of-term dinners?
Millie’s answer was direct. She said, “as long as I have breath in my body, I want to continue to do this work”. The seriousness of her answer surprised me, but it should not have. Millie, like teachers all over the world, completely believes in her students. After all, the students we sponsor were her students first – she helped them learn and grow from their first days in kindergarten. Millie was fully committed to these students before they became WSI scholars and it’s clear that her commitment will continue. Not only did Millie entirely ease my concerns regarding her role with WSI, her attitude was contagious and inspirational. She is a teacher dedicated to her students. She helped me realize that WSI is a partnership between sponsors, educators, and students: we are part of the same team, working together to see these young women and men achieve success and change their community for the better.