Scholarships transforming disadvantaged girls

July 7, 2008 12:00 am

, NAIROBI, July 7- She was born, brought up and schooled in Samburu. In her 18 years of life, Mary Lucy had never traveled out of her home area – about 840 km north of Nairobi.

The first time she traveled to Nairobi was to attend an interview for a university scholarship by a Kenyan charitable non governmental organization. 

"I got an A minus grade in high school, and if you can check the education statistics for Samburu district, girls really don’t perform that well," she proudly narrates.

Mary Lucy is lucky for she has managed to go through school despite the cultural barriers that make it difficult for a girl in her community to go through an education.

"Going through school has been a great challenge to me because of my background; the Samburu culture, like most in the north (Northern part of Kenya), girls are not given an opportunity to study," she says.

Coming from a poor family background, Mary Lucy explains that she got a chance to go through high school with support from sponsors.

"I got a chance to go to school and I did not disappoint those who were taking care of my education."

She was awarded a scholarship by Zawadi Africa Education Fund to study at Thomas More College in Kentucky, USA.

Mary Lucy will be traveling to the USA in September.

"I have elected to pursue a major in chemistry and when I come back to Kenya I would like to work with the underprivileged girls in Samburu and other communities that are not being given a chance to exploit their potential," she says.

"I know am going to be a great person and am going to make something good out of myself."

Grace Kinda is yet another girl who will benefit from the scholarship. She also scored an A minus in her Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education (KCSE) examinations.

"I will be going to Villanova University in Pennsylvania to study bio chemistry and when I come back I know I will be of service to my country," Kinda says.

"Since I was young, I had a dream of getting the best education but due to my disadvantaged background, family problems and traditions, it put my mother and I in a very difficult position".

Her mother, a widow, was retrenched from her job just when Kinda was joining high school.

"I was not even sure I would clear high school because my mum has no bank account, she has nothing to her name," she says.

Mary Lucy and Kinda are part of more than 30 girls from disadvantaged backgrounds around the country set to benefit from a full university scholarship from Zawadi Africa Education Fund.

The organisation’s founder, Dr Susan Mboya, says the girls will study in universities in the United States of America, Canada and Kenya.

"We are working with girls from all the different communities and what we are trying to do is to identify the talent and give them the opportunity."

The scholarships are valued at Sh320 million.

29 of the students will study in universities in the USA and Canada while two will go to Kenya’s United States International University.

Dr Mboya, a daughter to the late Kenyan Minister and Trade unionist Tom Mboya says this is the largest group the organization has accommodated in one year.

"Last year we had nine scholarships and eight in 2006," Dr Mboya says.

"We will also expand our network of universities to include partners in Australia and South Africa."

A new partnership with Google, an internet search engine, will also see five other girls benefit to pursue computer science and computer engineering.

Three of these scholarships will be at Jomo Kenyatta University and two at University of Cape Town, South Africa.  

Eva Muraya, the organisation’s chairperson, says they aim to increase the scholarships to 50 next year as well as expand their network to Uganda.

"As Kenyans you have got a powerful instrument through which you can promote this program; educate Kenyans on it so that we can begin to reverse the ills of history, the economic ills that have plagued us," she states.

"I think the visionary there was in the 60’s is too large for us not to take ownership."

The six-year program currently has 25 girls studying at top colleges and universities in the United States

The Zawadi Africa program is based on the highly successful Kennedy/Mboya Airlifts of the 1960’s sponsored by the then president of USA John F. Kennedy and Tom Mboya who worked with colleges and universities in the US to educate needy African students.

Some of the beneficiaries of this program include Nobel laureate professor Wangari Maathai, and Barack Obama senior, father to the US democratic Presidential candidate.


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