The Power of Education

By Tony Mecum, WSI Board Member

While we we in Kenya last June, WSI Board Member Tony Mecum, a middle school science teacher by in New York, taught science classes at St. Paul’s Primary School.  This is his reflection 

During our trip to Kenya, we spent one week in Nakuru with our students, their families, and their community. Our goal was to ensure each dollar donated to the World Scholarship Initiative was going directly to the education of our students. Our visit accomplished more than we could have imagined. Not only was the money we raised appropriated faithfully, we learned that our students were excelling at a higher level than most of their affluent peers. Our students’ principals made it very clear: each of our students were setting the bar to which their classmates had yet to reach. This delightful news led us to seek out how our students gained the academic strength and perseverance to succeed, despite the odds stacked against them. That understanding required us to look back through their academic journey, starting with St. Paul’s Primary School.

img_8972-jpgUpon our arrival to the neighborhood primary school our students attended, the teachers and school leadership greeted us with seemingly endless meals, stories, and choreographed performances by the younger students. The excitement at the school was electrifying. Despite the dilapidated infrastructure and lack of basic school supplies, students in every class we toured participated in classroom discussions and projects. As we visited each classroom, it was a stark reminder that education did not require fancy equipment like computers and projectors. It required something much deeper. We learned that the love and tireless service of the school leadership kept the school’s spirit alive, even though most of its students would face extreme poverty upon graduation, even if they ranked top of their class. Vice Principal Millie, in particular, exemplified this unwavering faith in the power of education by making sure students were set up for success even though their futures were precarious at best.  Millie had worked directly with Tom during his year of teaching and now assists our organization by helping the students and their families adjust to boarding school, paying school fees and purchasing supplies, and doing all the other on-the-ground work to make WSI happen. She spends hours beyond her workday to do these tasks, unpaid, because she knows this is the only way our students can have a chance to break from poverty. To share a glimpse of her invincible optimism, she invited me to teach a science class.

Throughout my 60-minute lesson, each student eagerly asked questions, participated in each challenge, and genuinely sought to learn. As the lesson progressed smoothly, I could only think about how many students in that classroom had no chance of attending high school. Despite their eager participation in the heart rate activity and curiosity about the circulatory system, their passion for education would not give them the same returns as it would an American student. For education to free them from a life of poverty would be a miracle.

On our last day at St. Paul’s Primary School, we were sent off with a school-wide performance, dance, meal, and gifts. It was very apparent that World Scholarship Initiative was the miracle that our students had hoped for in order to attend a great high school. World Scholarship Initiative reaches out to donors, coordinates logistics with Mille, and brings the impossible to a small group of young women and men who would otherwise be working in the slums right now for less than $5 a day.

Our fundraising back home is a side activity that, at times, seems like a hobby of little significance. However, to our students – and future students eagerly wanting to know more about the circulatory system and to one day leave the slums – our fundraising is literally saving lives. I hope our donors realize the incredible gift they have given. Donations to World Scholarship Initiative is world changing for children who have no other chance. Everything we do with WSI, every dollar we raise, is so incredibly humbling and absolutely necessary for the lives of ten phenomenal young women and men.

Matching Donation!

By Tom Bode, President

Update: We raised $2,000 and the full amount was matched.  Thanks everyone!

Great News! An anonymous donor will match all donations made before December 31, 2016, up to $2,000!!!

Our fundraising goal for 2016 is $10,000 and we’re almost there. Now with this matching offer, we have an opportunity to meet and go beyond that goal! In 2017, we will be starting our Professional Education Program to ensure our high school graduates get good jobs.  At the same time, we are continuing to give high school scholarships to deserving students. Expanding our programs means our costs are growing — exceeding our fundraising goal would ensure we can continue to provide educational opportunity to these great young adults!

Please make a donation between now and the end of the year.  Remember, it’s tax deductible, 100% of your donation goes to our programs, and it will change someone’s life.

“My son has come home!”

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.


Tom and Millie see each other again

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.

Two new students: Margaret and Vincent

By Tom Bode, President

On January 26, Margaret and Vincent will begin their freshman year of high school in Nakuru, Kenya, thanks to support from World Scholarship Initiative. The two students – attending different, single-sex schools – will move into their dorms, meet classmates from all over Kenya, and start adjusting to life at premier boarding high schools. WSI provides funding for education in hopes that these young people will build prosperous lives and become pillars of their community.

Life at boarding school will be a dramatic change from Margaret and Vincent’s primary school experience, which took place at a crumbling public school located in a slum. There, they were at the top of their class. Here, they will have classmates who will challenge them. There, they had to share textbooks, pencils, and overworked teachers’ attention with their peers. Here, they will learn from dedicated teachers in a supportive, well-equipped environment. Margaret and Vincent worked hard in primary school and succeeded despite enormous obstacles. Now they will have a chance to flourish.

This is the fourth consecutive year that WSI has selected incoming ninth grade students to receive a four-year scholarship for high school. We now support nine students – six girls and three boys – whose perseverance and intelligence and have been rewarded with the ability to attend a premier boarding school that would have been otherwise out of reach. Providing this opportunity to these students is only possible because of the generous support of donors and volunteers to World Scholarship Initiative. WSI is  a 501(c)(3) organization that operates without overhead – 100% of donations go directly to paying the costs of the students’ educations.

Please donate today.


Margaret 1

Margaret at St. Paul’s Primary School

Holiday Trivia Fundraiser a Huge Success

By Tom Bode, President

The 2015 WSI Holiday Trivia Fundraiser was a huge success. Fifty people came out on a rainy Monday night to Radio Room Bar in NE Portland to play trivia and support WSI. In all, over $1,700 was raised to support WSI students – enough to pay the annual costs of two students! At this event, longtime supporters mingled with new, and everyone got a chance to learn more about the mission of WSI. Generosity and holiday cheer were as plentiful as the food and drink.


Shortly after 7pm, the trivia  game started. Two hours and forty-one questions later, the winning team received a prize basket that included Starbucks gift cards and google-eye glasses. They also got bragging rights. For those who didn’t come, here’s a sample question: What is the name of the little girl who sees the Grinch stealing presents on Christmas Eve?

When players weren’t testing their trivia prowess, they had a chance to support WSI by purchasing raffle tickets or merchandise. A variety of artwork featuring pictures of Kenyan wildlife were for sale, generously produced and donated by an esteemed WSI supporter. These included coasters, photograph prints on canvas, and notecards.

As the night ended, raffle tickets were drawn for twenty lucky winners. Local business donated several prizes, for which we are very grateful: a Christmas Wreath, by Wreaths on Fleek, a gift card to Finnegan’s Toy Store, and passes to Laurelhurst Theater.  Radio Room Bar also donated a portion of the night’s sales to WSI.

The WSI board of directors is grateful to everyone who came for their emotional and financial support of our mission. This community event showed that teamwork and generosity can come together to accomplish amazing things.

Happy holidays, everyone!

Tom with the scholarship girls at their new home, Christ the King


Student Spotlight: Villitracia

“Hi! I hope you are fine. For me, I am very fine here in school and everything is well.”

Villitracia (Viliy) has a larger than life personality, with her smiles and laughs outsizing her small statute. She works hard in school, performing best in computer class, Christian religious studies, business studies, and Chemistry. She has a great ability for public speaking and enjoys school drama and poetry recital competition, and is active in student government. A younger brother and sister live with her mom and dad not far from Christ the King secondary school. She is very happy to be attending secondary school and fills every letter with thanks and blessings for her sponsors.

After the disputed 2007 election in Kenya, waves of rioting and violence tore across the country, eventually killing over 1000 people and causing hundreds of thousands of people to leave their homes. Nine-year-old Villitracia and her family were among the thousands of displaced people who flooded into the town of Nakuru from the surrounding areas, seeking safety in the city. They found a small home and her mother and father built a new life. Vilitracia attended St. Paul’s Primary School, an hour’s walk away, but where she thrived as a student. Her father began working as a casual laborer, which he continues to do today. Villitracia describes both her mother and father as hardworking, determined and friendly people who are her role models.

Despite the violence that impacted her young life, Vilitracia is an incredibly friendly and outgoing young woman. For example, in her final year at St. Paul’s Primary School, she alone in her eighth grade class had introduced herself to the new American volunteer teacher while her classmates avoided eye contact. Her letters to World Scholarship Initiative are long and full of stories. She has a powerful gift for public speaking and can hold the attention of a room while teaching or telling a story. At the same time, she is infused with infectious energy that surrounds her with laughter, either hers or others. She tells a story from her first months at Christ the King of another student asking if anyone knew what a “pipette” was. Vilitraica responded that perhaps it was pet dog named Pi, at which time, she writes, her audience “burst into laughs and even dropped tears from their eyes.” (In fact, a pipette is a piece of laboratory equipment similar to an eye-dropper.)

Like the majority of Kenyans, Villitracia is Christian. Religion is important in her life. Christian Religious Education (CRE) is a mandatory class in primary and secondary school, in which Vilitracia often captures the attention of her classmates when giving the student sermon. CRE is Villitracia’s favorite class at Christ the King; she described her teacher as so talented that “at the end of class everything is flowing in your mind.” In a letter, Villitracia told us that she recognized her first-term grade in CRE – 78th percentile – need improvement. Sure enough, a year later, she was ranked first out of 105 students. Vilitracia showed her developing aptitude for leadership when she was elected to serve on the student government’s “Executive Committee” as Liturgy Executive, representing students in church issues. (The school is located on the grounds of the largest Catholic church in Nakuru.) Faith gives her confidence to persevere in the face of challenges. She writes, “by the power of God I know he has a great plan for me.”

WSI sponsored Villitracia because she excelled in primary school. She has validated our decision by succeeding admirably at Christ the King. Coming from a very poor background, Viliy faced a difficult transition to the relatively posh environment of the boarding school. She told us that she was initially nervous, but soon realized that “boarding life is so cool.” When the first grades were released, however, she recognized that she needed to improve in some classes. Unfortunately, during the rainy season she became sick with pneumonia and spent time at the hospital, which sidetracked her schoolwork. Her grades did not improve during the first year, remaining around the 75th percentile. She identified her most challenging subjects and wrote, “but I promise that next year please God they won’t be challenging any more.” She was good on her word and the next term her performance jumped, she was ranked the best student in CRE and Computer Studies and 92nd percentile overall. She wrote, “I topped [ranked] 10 over 109 students but it wasn’t satisfactory to me. I hope next time I will even go higher than that.” Villitracia has a reason to keep pushing herself to excel: her big goal for the future is to be a cardiologist. This is an ambitious goal and she knows it, but given her track record of success, we’re excited to watch her performance.

“Thank you all of you who are sponsoring me, for your kind hearts because you have helped with open hands. May you continue being blessed by God and may his blessings be with you wherever you go. I love you all”

For more information on Villitracia, see her profile on the Awarded students page.

2015 Holiday Benefit at Radio Room Bar

This December, we’re going to celebrate the education of the WSI students with an educational event of our own: bar trivia! Join us on December 21 at Radio Room Bar for a fun evening of trivia, raffles, and holiday cheer. Trivia starts at 7, but please come earlier to get a seat and a drink. Radio Room has generously agreed to donate a portion of the evening’s sales to WSI, so don’t be shy about trying the Fried Brussel Sprouts!

There will be prizes to win and photography and art from Kenya for sale.

Where:  Radio Room Bar, 1101 NE Alberta St., Portland, Oregon
When: Trivia starts at 7pm, but please arrive earlier to be ready. Happy hour prices on food and beer are available until 6.
Trivia: Teams of up to four. Four rounds of ten questions. $5 per person to play.
Why: To celebrate the achievements of the WSI students, to thank our donors and supporters, and to raise funds for a successful 2016!

Want something to put on the fridge? Download the Trivia Night Poster.