Recognizing “this great continent’s young people”

You may have heard that in March 2019, the $1 million prestigious Global Teacher Prize was given for the first time to a teacher from a low-income country–Kenya. Peter Tabachi teaches science and mathematics at a secondary school in a remote village in Kenya, and traveled to Dubai to be given his astounding prize by actor Hugh Jackman.

Street scene, Nairobi, near college

“This prize does not recognize me but recognizes this great continent’s young people. I am only here because of what my students have achieved. This prize gives them a chance. It tells the world that we can do anything.” —Peter Tabichi 

The majority of his school’s students are from poor families and almost a third are orphans. The school has one computer and there are 58 students per teacher. But Tabachi has achieved extraordinary things with his students, showing that it doesn’t take much to change lives.

And we at Save One Life believe that, too. During our recent visit to Kenya, we assessed our beneficiaries and we were most impressed with Javan Odwar, a young man now attending college, thanks to a scholarship from Save One Life.

I’ve known Javan since he was 9 years old; I’ve been to his home twice. It is a one room dwelling, for originally four children and parents. Javan is the youngest; since I last saw him, three years ago, his older brother James passed away. Javan and his sister Moline have von Willebrand disease. But nothing seems to stop them from achieving goals. And education is the ticket out of poverty.

With a new team of supporters, including Save One Life executive director Chris Bombardier, we traveled not to Javan’s home this time, but to his college, to see how he was doing. With us was Maureen Miruka, founder and president of the Jose Memorial Haemophilia Society, our program partner, and JMHS program coordinator Sarah Mumbi. Through the bustling streets of Nairobi we went on August 1, down some side streets, and finally at the college.

Now, when you think of college, you might think of ivy-covered New England brick buildings, or glass and brass city buildings, or maybe concrete block community colleges on the outskirts of towns. But not here. The Kasarani Catering College is a storefront on a dirt road. As you step inside, you enter a concrete-walled room, with chipped-paint décor, a banner, and a plastic table and chairs for ten. The stove was a hub of activity—clearly we were going to be fed lunch at 10 am! The students were busy preparing a feast.

Our excellent cooks!

Maureen filled us in: this was an example of the Kenyan government trying to expand education to those of lower economic means, by supporting middle-colleges. Rather than attempt four years, this trade “college” (essentially a one to two room storefront converted into an education center) would train young people to serve in the growing tourist sector as cooks and waiters. Or perhaps work as caters for weddings and other special events.

Javan couldn’t have been more proud. Impeccably dressed in black and white, he ushered us to our seats, and also entertained us by grabbing his acoustic guitar and singing for us songs he wrote! He has a lovely voice and is talented. One song was about having a bleeding disorder. Besides what will become his day job as a caterer, he hopes to make it as a recording artist as well.

The effort made by everyone was great. The young team of cooks prepared a feast of meat, rice and vegetables. I didn’t think I was hungry until I smelled and saw the food, and then I ate everything! While I ate, I noted the simplicity: on the wall were nails, on which the utensils would be hung; they were marked by simple, hand-written labels fastened with tape.

We are very proud of Javan. For me, knowing where he comes from, and seeing his ambition, and now having a scholarship from Save One Life and a college funded in part by the government, gives me security that this young man will make it. He will rise above poverty, as the next generation should, and become self-sufficient. He has big dreams. Our mission is to help him reach those.

Thanks to Patrick M. Schmidt of FFF Enterprises for his sponsorship of Javan through the years.

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