Coronavirus in Kenya

By Tom Bode, President

As I flew back to the USA from Kenya in February, coronavirus was growing in the news as a threat. I saw a few people wearing masks at the airport, but I was not concerned.

Now, the pandemic has hit the US and worldwide continues to worsen. Kenya is not immune. The county has several very high-density population centers, a fragile healthcare system, and a large population that lives on subsistence wages. All of that sets it up to have a bad outbreak, and the government has responded by shutting down many aspects of public life.

High schools are closed indefinitely. The ten high school students on WSI scholarship have been sent home to their families. Our coordinator in Nakuru remains in contact with their parents/guardians, and they will return to their schools when they reopen.

Universities have also been shut, and the WSI students in our university program have also left the schools and traveled home. Fortunately, at this point, university classes continue online through video lectures, chat, and online assignments. Each student has a WSI-provided laptop that enables them to participate. These data-hungry platforms, such as Google Classroom, use a lot of data – not a big deal for someone with a broadband connection at home, but for our students, who access the internet through daily or weekly mobile data packages, it can be a considerable expense.

World Scholarship Initiative will assisting our students to remain healthy and continue their education during this outbreak. I remain in good contact with all of our university students. WSI is providing additional funding to assist with internet and the expenses associated with a shutdown.

I hope that the decision to close schools and universities has moved our students away from the danger of densely populated areas, and that they will soon be able to safely return to their education. For our students and for everyone else, WSI hopes that this challenging time will pass quickly and safely.

LIVE FROM KENYA – WSI Update

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.

I never had a homework assignment that oinked at me.

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. 

Reflecting on meeting WSI students

By Jacque Bode

In May 2019, a group of WSI supporters traveled to Kenya to visit the students and meet with the program’s volunteers and partners. This post is the first of several by that group of travelers. Jacque Bode is the mother of WSI co-founder Tom Bode. -Ed.

What a joyful challenge to try to put into words the enormity of experiences of my visit to Kenya.  By far, encountering the Kenyan people and their culture, was my favorite – and most especially, meeting and talking with our Kenyan students.  

I have deep admiration for these young people.  They have grown up in poverty – a kind of poverty that I believe rarely exists in the USA – but with their intellect, determination and ability to sustain hard work for years, they will be a force of positive change in their communities and the world.  I was especially touched by Brenda, who overcame her shyness to visit with me a bit.  She said she misses her mother very much – I was sad to learn the students are not allowed to visit family except on school breaks – but her education is so important she is willing to endure her homesickness to continue her studies. She shared that her dream is to become a pediatrician, or if that isn’t possible, a teacher, or an accountant. Unlike in our country, a Kenyan student’s choices are determined (and limited) by how they place on qualifying test scores.  After visiting with Brenda, I was left believing she will indeed become a pediatrician.  

Another striking moment for me was visiting with Peris and Villatricia at dinner.  These two young women are at two different universities in Nairobi (Peris will be a junior in chemical engineering and Villatricia will be a sophomore in education). They were quietly well spoken, pleasant and clearly happy to be able to visit with Katie and Tom.  However, at one point in the conversation, the subject of politics came up.  Both young ladies became quite animated in their discussion, revealing excellent analytical skills, and an ability to clearly convey their own views and ideas with a maturity and honesty that was very impressive.  I thought to myself that if this is a measure of the success of all the supporters of WSI, then we are wildly successful!

I was struck, too, at the strong emotional connection the students feel with Katie and Tom.  Clearly they idolize Katie and Tom, and Katie particularly showered the students with love, affection and appreciation.  You could see the girls just soak up Katie’s energy and faith in them – and see how Katie’s faith in them inspires their faith in themselves. You can see how they want to become the same kind of strong, smart, well-educated professional woman Katie has become.  The boys, also, enjoy that special connection but are a bit shyer to express this with words. Their beaming faces tells it all.

My ‘take home’ recognition from my experience in Kenya is that while it may feel very discouraging to make big changes in our complex and troubled world, powerful change can and does happen on an individual level – individuals like Katie and Tom who have the energy and determination to devote themselves to WSI (in spite of their already very full lives), and who inspire the young people WSI supports in Kenya.  These young women and men already are a positive force in their communities. I believe they will continue to be forces of change – not only because they will have an education and the skills to make good decisions in their own lives and the lives of their families, but they have the drive and capacity to continue to strive to become the best they can – and to inspire others to follow their example. 

My heart is full.  I am grateful to have had this experience.

The author, Jacque Bode (right)

WSI Trivia Night

WSI’s annual Trivia Night fundraiser is just around the corner! For our fifth year, we’re sticking with what works and changing nothing except the questions! Come have a good time enjoying pizza and beer, competing at trivia, and supporting a great cause!

When: July 25 – doors at 6 pm, trivia game starts at 7 pm. Come early to grab a good seat.

Where: Lucky Lab Beer Hall, 1945 NW Quimby Ave, Portland

Tickets are $30 in advance, $35 at the door. Buy tickets online today.

Prizes will include award winning lemon meringue pies.

We will also have photos of the students, an update from our recent trip to Kenya, and handmade items from Kenya for sale.

We hope to see you there!

High school graduates bound for university

By Tom Bode, President
Lydia and Marion graduated from Christ the King Girls High School in December 2018 after four years of support from WSI and earned impressive results on their all-important final exam. Their outstanding achievements during that time demonstrate the immense opportunity that WSI funding provides for young people and showcases the hard work, skill, and maturity of these two young women. WSI recently received letters from these students, which you can read on our blog.

Marion and Lydia spend their last months at school exclusively preparing for the national KCSE exam, taken by high school seniors across the country, to determine their eligibility for further education. Students who score at the highest levels are guaranteed a spot in a four year university degree program (and some government scholarships). In 2018, only 13 percent of student taking the KCSE scored in that category. Lower scores earn students a position in shorter programs and technical and vocational schools.

Lydia and Marion both scored well above the top cut-off, allowing them to continue their education at a four-year university. With scores in hand, they are now waiting to hear which university they will attend when classes start in the fall. We are very proud of their achievements and excited to hear where they will go next.

WSI has three older students who previously earned admission to university through their scores on the KCSE. Peris is currently in her second year at the University of Nairobi, Kenya’s premier institution of higher education, where she is earning a degree in chemical engineering. Triza is attending Mt. Kenya University, where she is studying education with hopes of becoming a teacher. Villitracia is studying business at the Co Operative University of Kenya. WSI provides support to university students through its Professional Education program.

Great words from this year’s two graduates

Marion and Lydia graduated from Christ the King Girls’ Boarding High School in December 2018. They are the sixth and seventh WSI sponsored students to complete high school. They wrote us letters soon after finishing school that perfectly capture the driving purpose behind everything WSI does: providing bright students with the financial support they need to become their best selves. We encourage you to read these letters and be moved by their success and maturity, just as we were.

Marion’s Letter

Marion’s letter

To World Scholarship Initiative

When I think critically and try to figure out some of the people who have helped me in life then I cannot fail to say that World Scholarship Initiative is one of them. You are some of the best people in the whole world since you have shown me endless love and compassion from the time when I joined high school up to now when I have completed my high school life. I lack words to express my gratitude to you, but I pray that God may give me good results in the Kenya Certificate of Secondary Completion exam (KCSE) since it is the only way that I can thank you.

Indeed, you are great people in my life since it is only because of you that I joined a boarding school, something that I had never thought of in my entire life.  Also it is because of you that I managed to live a comfortable life in school having been provided with everything including school fees; and yet some of my classmates came from well up families but they could not live such a life.

Surely, you are God sent into lives of many children from St. Paul’s Primary School, me being one of them.  We had never thought of living the life we are living right now.  Many of us used to speak broken English, never ate lunch, used to walk for a very long distance to school and also were always sent home for coming late to school but now all these have been turned into a lovely and comfortable life.  I tell you, many of us now can afford a smile on our faces since we can see light ahead of us.

Personally, I have benefitted a lot since my life is not the same.  I thank God for my staying in Christ the King whereby I have matured to be a great women in the future.  At least now I have courage to stand before people and speak to them courageously, and this is all because of the chance that I was given to be the school president.

I assure you that Christ the King is a good school since it has enlightened me in my education, it has taught me how to be a good leader, it has given me a chance to explore the country through symposiums and trips, it has also enabled me to participate in sports and games such as netball, football, volleyball, and handball, and in fact, I was awarded a certificate for being the best handball player during the interclass competition.

The words that I have used may sound familiar and useless but from deep within my heart I say “thank you so much.”  As for me I urge and plead with you to continue with this program, since by doing so you are touching previous lives of those children who have great dreams and goals, but they are unable to achieve them due to lack of support from their parents and those around them.

In conclusion, it is my pleasure to say that I am very grateful for the support you have given to me and I hope that you will continue.  With all those remarks I once more say thank you and may God bless you.

From: Shikokti Marion Mbaisi

Lydia’s letter

Lydia’s letter

Hello! Receive greetings from Lydia.  Am doing fine, I have just completed my secondary education and am hoping for the best results.  To Kate, then you for the letter you sent and congratulations because you are married. Am happy to hear that Mr. Tom got employed thanks to God that is good.

To all members who have been contributed to my academic support am grateful and am proud of you. I have never lacked anything during my schooling period, you made me comfortable in school and my part was only to study.  Once more I say thank you.  

Those of you who came to Kenya and we went for a tour, I thank you all it was just a wonderful day and a good interaction.  Am also grateful to Miss Wanjohi because she has always guided me and also encouraged me in everything until now am done.  

My mum has been doing a great job as a parent and she supported me in everyway for sure I had a smooth time with her during my studying period.

The school that you took me to study was also good, it had all the facilities required.  In terms of discipline was also high even if the Principal was so strict she always did her best and ensured we had a conducive environment.  

When I was in form one the school life seemed to be boring since had never been in a boarding school but as days went by I became used to and I really enjoyed being there for sure you chose a better place we call a school, wow! Thank I appreciate a lot.

I will never forget you all since you have brought me this far, it was a very long journey but you never gave up then you are very caring and dedicated.  God bless you.  I thank you so much and I wish you all the best in your lives.

Yours faithfully

Lydia Moraa