By Tom Bode, President
I’ve been in Kenya for the last week, working on the WSI operations and checking in on the students, and I have exciting news to share. First, this year we’re bringing on our largest cohort of sponsored students ever, with six incoming freshman receiving WSI sponsorships. I met them and believe that they will benefit tremendously from the opportunity to attend a top quality high school. Second, Margret, who graduated high school two months ago, earned admission to a university, continuing our streak of every girl who graduates high school going on to a university. Third, to hopefully improve the performance of boys in our program, none of whom have gone on to university, we’ve established a relationship with a new boys’ school, one that is extremely well-regarded. I toured the school and met the three freshman we’re sponsoring who started there two weeks ago.
The six new students starting as freshman this year are our first cohort to come from outside the town of Nakuru, where the schools and our on-the-ground coordinator are located. In a change put in place last year, we now recruit students who meet our criteria from all of Kenya, with a special focus on rural, undeveloped areas where there are few options for bright kids. As a result, several of this year’s new students are from very rural areas of Kenya, so much so that even the trip to Nakuru was strange. For some, the trip was their first time leaving their village and seeing a paved road; and entering school was their first time wearing new shoes, sleeping on a mattress of their own, and many other novel experiences that I can’t imagine. When I saw them, after only ten days at the school, they were settling in well, and looked proud and sharp in new uniforms.
We support seven girls in high school
In four years, hopefully those students will be joining a university, but that is far from certain. In Kenya, admission to a four-year program is highly competitive and determined by a student’s score on a nation-wide test given at the end of senior year. Even at the best high schools, only half of graduating students may earn admission to university. It is a testament to the dedication of our students that every graduate of our girl’s high school has proceeded to university. This last year was no exception, and now all six young women who attended high school on a WSI scholarship are at (or about to start at) university. For those students, university tuition is mostly covered by the government. WSI supports these students with a small monthly stipend and a one-time purchase of a laptop.
One of the first students sponsored by WSI is in her third year at the University of Nairobi, where she is studying chemistry. I had dinner with her and was impressed by the range of her success. In addition to her academic work, she serves as the elected Deputy Governor (the equivalent of student body vice president) of the 22,000 students of her campus. She is also active at church (she spent the Christmas break on a church mission trip) and sings in a Chinese-language choir. She is vibrant, forceful, and represents everything that WSI hopes to accomplish.
Finally, I toured the new boys’ school for WSI sponsored boys. It is located about 30 minutes outside of the town of Nakuru, on five acres in a rural area. (Google maps link). About 400 students live on the grounds with the faculty and a working farm, where the students raise pigs, chicken, cows, and keep an extensive vegetable garden. Despite the rural setting and agricultural focus of the school, it is highly regarded and admission is very competitive because of the consistently high scores its graduates earn on the university admission test. In this bucolic academic setting, city kids from affluent Nairobi families mix with the children of subsistence farmers from small villages, under stern leadership. The director of the school is a former English teacher who makes up for his apparent youth with plenty of seriousness. He took me on a tour of the school where we viewed the agricultural facilities (I confessed to barely knowing which end of the cow is which), well-equipped computer and science labs, and his home, where I enjoyed a freshly laid and freshly scrambled egg. All in all, the school seemed like an excellent home for its students and the faculty is supportive of our mission, and I’m happy with the change.
My trip to Kenya was short but successful. Last year, we decided to seek students from the whole county and didn’t know if it would work out. On this trip I discussed the selection process with the Kenyans who implemented it, and now I’m confident it is a better method for recruiting students and that the change has strengthened WSI. I was glad to see the new high school for boys and begin a strong working relationship with the leadership there. Overall, I believe WSI is heading into 2020 – it’s ninth year – with improvements in its operations that leave us in a strong position to continue to provide excellent educational opportunities to bright, needy students. I am looking forward to having the option of sponsoring more students each year, and in the coming years to seeing the first students sponsored by WSI become university graduates.