Wednesday, March 07, 2018

Education: the most powerful weapon against poverty

Elika had a difficult upbringing, filled with many setbacks. Had she not received support from the local church or a Bright Hope scholarship, her story may have turned out very differently.

Elika grew up in the Mathare Slum until the age of six, when she moved to a densely-populated neighborhood full of roadside vendors and clothesline adorned balconies. There, separated from her mother and four of her siblings, she shared a single bedroom flat with one of her sisters, her father and his new wife.

When Elika finally reached high school, she was excited to attend boarding school and have a break from her daily challenges at home. Later, in her third year she was elected Deputy Head Girl of the school.

Her leadership responsibilities were cut short, however, when Elika blew the whistle on relationships between teachers and students. Unfortunately, this information was not positively received by the school administration. The matter, having reached the police and the Ministry of Education, led to the firing of teachers involved in the scandal.

“The head teacher was very upset that I had painted the school in bad light and caused negative publicity," she said. "I was suspended from school and demoted from my position. This was very upsetting, I felt unfairly treated.”

When she left school to serve her suspension period, her grandmother passed away. Following local customs, the elderly sit in groups and converse in hushed tones, while the young dance the night away in honor of the dead. During one of those nights, a young man lured her into his home and assaulted her. She did not tell anyone, though fears of pregnancy and HIV haunted her.

She returned to school, feeling helpless, despised and with no one to turn to. Elika continued with her high school studies but her mediocre grades meant she was ineligible for any public university scholarships.

Elika got a job and began saving for college. She enrolled in a discipleship program, sponsored by Bright Hope, which helped her heal from previous trauma.

“This was the first time I talked about my rape experience," said Elika. "I opened up to the counselors about the series of events, the wounds and bitterness."

She underwent HIV counseling and testing. To her relief, she tested negative. That fall, Elika was awarded a Bright Hope college scholarship. Bright Hope committed to paying 60% of her school fees and she was able to get loans for the difference.

Elika graduated with a second upper class degree, a Bachelor of Arts, in political science, public administration and sociology.

Right after graduation she got a three-month contract as a switch-board manager, where she earned nearly double what most recent graduates make.

Elika is currently working as a personal assistant for her former college professor at the University of Nairobi. She is a firm believer that “education is a weapon against poverty."

“I am grateful for the sponsorship and would like to thank all the people who give to make it possible,” she said.

" I want to give back to my community, I want to give the children of [Mathare] slum with hope that they can one day leave this place."