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Charity puts smile back on orphan’s face

By | March 8th 2009

By Erick Wamanji

She felt tired when she finished her exam. Not that the paper was tough; no, far from it. To her, this was but a drab ending to an era that would perhaps usher harsher times.

Rosemary Wambui faced an uncertain future. She was lucky to complete primary school. It was ridiculous therefore to imagine herself in high school for want of cash. And she walked silently home, her eyes teary. Today, she is shedding, well, tears of joy. Lady Luck smiled and now she is on scholarship just like 46 others who would be hopeless today.

"It (doing exams) was meaningless to me then. I was just satisfying a formality because I didn’t expect to join high school," she reminisces, hesitates and continues. "I’m staying with my sister who is struggling to feed us," she explains.

Wambui, an orphan, lives in Mukuru slums. She was not even inspired to rush for her results. "What for?" she wondered.

But then, her dark clouds were ringed by the proverbial silver lining. A local charity, Harambee Mukuru Scholarship Fund, came to her rescue. Today, Wambui is a Form II student at Matuu Girls’ School, and her future looks bright.

Best chance ever

"It was the greatest gift of my life," she beams as if the announcement was just made a few minutes ago, her eyes welling with tears.

"Now I’m focused. I want to become a news anchor," she says.

In Mukuru slums stories of despondency are strewn all over. Here, one is lucky to access primary school because free education is yet to come six years on. Those who are lucky to get primary education drop out after Class Eight. Boys become criminals; girls choose the easiest path, commercial sex.

A tour of the slum reveals secrets perhaps only known to the slum dwellers. In the allies you find boys and girls, barely 18, looking woozy and boozy. Shabby and unkempt, they swig cheap liquor from a plastic bottle that is passed around.

"These ones dropped out of school for lack of fees and motivation. They are usually high on cheap spirit," said Henry Otieno, a teacher at Ruben Primary School.

Currently, there are 46 students in different high school benefiting from Harambee’s initiative. The organisation, in the past two years, has spent over Sh2 million to this noble venture.

Step to transformation

"Liberation of Mukuru and many other slums will come only through education," said Hellen Nyatika, the organisation’s secretary.

"You can’t transform a place unless the youth are educated, exposed and understand dynamics of their world."

She says they don’t necessarily go for performance or the top pupil. We target the needy, average students with a passion for education. However, our vetting is thorough to ensure only the deserving cases benefit," she says.

Initially, they had 17 students but now there are 46 in different schools. One has completed high school and is waiting to join college.

"Harambee was founded in 2006 by staff and students of Institute of Technology, Tallaght (ITT Dublin), in partnership with teachers in some six primary schools in Mukuru. "It is an entirely voluntary organisation," says Brian MacCormaic, the founder. This programme was initiated in 2007 after MacCormaic ‘s visit. When he came to Kenya in 2002, he found himself in crime and grime of Mukuru. He engaged some local youth in talk and realised their biggest need: education.

The young people expressed desire for high school education, which is hampered by poverty. He went back to Ireland to fundraise.

Gift to youth

He then in 2006 got a sponsor — Institute of Technology Tallaght, Ireland, formed a committee in their college to fundraise for Mukuru.

He gives an example of his own hometown –Tallaght- in Ireland. In the 1970s and 1980s, there was runaway crime, drug abuse, high unemployment and hopelessness just like Mukuru today. The only thing that got it out of the rut was education to the young.

However, Harambee goes beyond scholarships. To date, it has built primary schools, and established a Home Base Care team of volunteers, and a Women’s HIV/Aids Support Group.

"One might argue that there is free secondary education. That’s just a charade. It favours only a select few," says Nyatika.

Harambee plans to acquire land for an educational centre, a community library and a counselling centre.

"The centre we’re planning to build will provide education for adults as well as children, with a public library for the whole community," says MacCormaic.

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