Felistus Ondari Courtesy Photo
Fourteen-year-old Felistus Ondari was one of her schoolâ€™s brightest students, destined for success in high school, college, and whatever occupation she chose to pursue. But as an orphan in Kenya, Felistusâ€™ superior grades and test scores didnâ€™t matter â€“ her lack of money did.
â€œMy parents used to encourage me to work hard and be the best. I have done that, but my parents are not around to take me to school as they promised,â€ Felistus told The Standard, a Kenyan newspaper, in 2005.
When word of her plight became known, along with knowledge that she was among thousands of children who shared it, those committed to saving the youth of Kenya began to take action. One of their strongest voices is that of Anderea Onwonga, founder of the Elimu Fund.
There are so many children who are coming from poor backgrounds and when it comes time to go to high school, they canâ€™t afford it,â€ said Onwonga, a native Kenyan who has been living in the U.S. for the past 20 years.
Last modified on Tuesday, 24 February 2009 21:04
He and his family make frequent trips to Kenya, and are advocates for the cause of improving the lives of impoverished children. It was the story of Ondari that started Onwongaâ€™s mission.
Onwonga, president of the Kenya International Community (KIC) in the U.S., was able to raise $800 to send Felistus to high school, and the Elimu Fund was born. Officially known as the Elimu Kenya Scholarship Fund, Elimu, which means education, states as its mission - to create a scholarship fund to help bright and intelligent Kenyan students with limited financial resources pursue and successfully complete secondary education.
Schooling for grades one through eight are free, but students in Kenya must pay for high school, and thousands of students, many of whom are orphans, cannot afford the fees. The majority of high schools are boarding schools, and the cost for one year of schooling â€“ including school fees, books, food, housing and medical care â€“ translates into approximately $600 in U.S. currency.
After registering as a non-profit 501 Â© 3 corporation, the Elimu Fund began another difficult task â€“ enlisting volunteers, and trying to meet their benchmark figures to send as many children as possible to school.
â€œIt has not been easy. One of our biggest challenges has been how to let people know what we are doing. Most of the Kenyans in this country came here as students, and are not really well connected to the American people,â€ Onwonga said.
He also stressed that cultural differences between Americans and Kenyans have made it difficult to network with others in support of their cause.
One source of assistance Onwonga has found is through Kenyan Ambassador Peter N.R.O. Ogego. Ogego supplied Onwonga with a letter touting the progress and mission of the Elimu Fund in sponsoring students, which has been helpful in pursuing donations for the students.
â€œFor our fundraising effort to work, we have to bring in Americans,â€ said Onwonga, who has three American citizens on the Elimu Fund Board of Directors.
The Elimu Fund initially sponsored students from poor families and orphans, but the need for funds now limits their scholarships to just orphans. Students must also qualify for the scholarship money with good grades and high test scores, as they are seen as those with the best chances to succeed.
â€œIn Kenya, there are still cultural challenges we face, as people ask, â€˜how is this going to help my tribe? How is this going to help my village?â€™ For us, we are just trying to help children who need help,â€ Onwonga said.
Currently the Elimu Fund has over 40 scholarship students attending high schools in Kenya. For Onwonga, it is just a start.
â€œThere are thousands who need help. Our people are suffering. If we can give our children an education, we can give them a future.â€