Mathare Valley, Kenya Articulate and confident, yet down-to-earth, Oliver walked along the dirt road in the Mathare Valley slum. Immaculately dressed in a dark suit and bright white shirt—a stark contrast to his surroundings—he acted totally at home. Because it is his home.
On this hot afternoon he stopped to buy a slice of watermelon, chat with someone he knew, and cup his hand to get a drink of water from a little boy holding a hose emerging from a tin shack.
He popped in at MCO Joy Primary School, our partner school he attended as a child, and eagerly found one of his first teachers. Now 22, he warmly takes a picture with his arm around her—and wants her in the video because she was such an important person in his life.
Oliver is a Bright Hope scholarship recipient pursuing two courses of study at once: culinary arts at the International Hotel and Tourism Institute and a Bachelor of Commerce from the University of Nairobi.
He loves cooking and his dream is to work in a five-star hotel.
“I loved cooking way back when I was little,” Oliver shared. “It was my responsibility to cook in the house. I cooked and cooked and cooked… My friends used to come and tell me the food was so delicious.”
“With all those compliments, I used to feel good,” Oliver said. “I thought, ‘I want to try this. Maybe this is what I really want to do.’”
This is more than just a whimsical childhood dream for Oliver, it’s a dream that he’s held onto despite incredible obstacles that, at times, made it look impossible.
By the time he was just eight years old, he was missing most of his classes so he could be available to care for his siblings in their single-room home in the slum. Oliver’s father would leave for work before dawn, and his mother was gone for months at a time working as a farmer in the countryside.
Oliver said that at that point he felt like he’d been struck on his back. “I really knew that all my dreams were shattered,” he said. “I had to stay home, cook for them, dress them, and make sure they [were] safe.”
But thankfully, that wasn’t the end of Oliver’s education. Another organization stepped in and sponsored him so he could return to school. He speaks highly of his years at MCO.
“My experience was so good,” Oliver said. “It was so, so, so, so, so good because we used to get food. And that was the main challenge back at home.” He said they’d wake up early in the morning and know that they were not only getting a quality education, but food assistance and mentorship, and morning devotions at the church. “It was really amazing studying in [MCO]… I think [it was] a golden opportunity,” he said, “because if it was not for the school, I wouldn’t be here.”
If it weren’t for the church, Oliver thinks he may have just ended up a house boy or have gotten into crime. “Most of my peers used to steal. They used to do drugs. I think maybe if I did not get the opportunity to meet Christ, maybe I would fall in that trap and do drugs,” he said. “My life would be miserable by now.”
But it’s not. It’s on an entirely different path.
As he nears graduation, Oliver credits the Word of God as one of the reasons he was able to persevere through challenges and avoid pitfalls his peers fell into, and he looks to the future with anticipation. “My hopes are so, so bright,” he said. “I’m one person who believes in Christ. And I believe in the Word. I have so many people telling me that I don’t look like where I come from. I think it’s because of God.”