Kenyan students present projects to K-State panel
Up until Monday of this week, Manhattan played host to a small contingent of dedicated high school students who traveled 8,534 miles to get here.
The eight students and two teachers from Kenya first arrived in Washington, D.C., on Feb. 9, fresh off the first airplane experience of their lives. After spending three days in D.C., the group traveled to Manhattan and began the work they came here to do.
The students were chosen by members of the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi, Kenya, to travel here as a part of a U.S. State Department 4-H outreach program to educate hard-working students on communication and leadership skills.
The goal of the program is to bring the students and teachers to the states and teach them ways in which they can better their communities back home and set an example of leadership, said Deryl Waldren, extension specialist in 4-H youth development for K-State Research and Extension.
The students participated in two essay competitions to display both their ability to write well and the quality of the leadership plan they had drafted. They were also interviewed at the embassy in Nairobi before being chosen to travel to the states.
Four students from St. Teresa’s Bumini High School and four students from Nyang’oma Secondary School were chosen. One principal from each school accompanied the students.
Upon arrival, the groups began working on collective projects that they would eventually present to a small panel of K-State students and faculty. The projects the schools came up with involved reducing teen pregnancy in their schools and increasing school attendance.
“Last year there were 14 girls in my form and 11 of them either had children or were pregnant,” said Milkah Wahjiru, a 16-year-old student from Nyang’oma Secondary. “We want to teach them the importance of education and teach them to focus on education for their future.”
The students said there were several factors affecting school attendance, citing costs as one of the main deterrents to filling up classrooms.
“School attendance is also so important,” said June Mukanda, 17-year-old student from St. Teresa’s. “Poverty, things like no money to pay school fees causes drop outs. We want to reduce that number.”
Both Wahjiru and Mukanda said they wish for more people in Kenya to have a higher education and to be able to go places with their future.
The students said they experienced quite a bit of culture shock when they arrived, as Kenya has both extremely limited modern amenities and a completely different climate.
Mukanda explained her shock when a grocery store attendant helped her find an item in the store and wasn’t upset about it.
“She was so nice, I was surprised,” she said. “In Kenya, the people have different, negative attitudes where they think you will rob them if you approach them and don’t know them. Here, it isn’t like that.”
Mukanda also commented on K-State’s unity, saying it is a rare thing to see a community that is so cohesive.
“The campus is beautiful,” she said. “It is so big, and there is purple everywhere. We don’t see that in Kenya, where everyone agrees on one thing; here you all agree on purple, purple, purple. You are very patriotic.”
The students’ trip to Manhattan also gave the students their first experience with snow.
“I never dreamt of coming to America, seeing snow or flying on a plane,” Wahjiru said. “I never even dreamt that could happen.”
Wahjiru and Mukanda said they take their studies very seriously because where they are from, it is one of the only ways to have a future beyond their current lives.
“If you don’t use your time well in school, you won’t get time to do it because when you get home,” Mukanda said. “You have to go get firewood, fetch water, wash clothes. It is nothing like life here, there is so much electricity, it is unbelievable. So many machines and electricity and huge cars. We both walk more than an hour to school every day.”
Despite the challenges they face, Wahjiru said it is worth struggling through the limitations to obtain an education.
“We love school. We want to make a difference and have a future,” Wahjiru said. “The things I have learned here are making me think much bigger about my life and to not have a small vision, but have a larger vision for my future.”
Both Mukanda and Wahjiru’s dream is to find a way to go to college and become doctors.
The students also participated as part of a delegation of 160 students in the Kansas 4-H Ambassador training event at Rock Springs, Kan., on Friday night and Saturday.
“Over the two weeks that they were here, the program did what it was supposed to do and helped them reach their full potential,” Waldren said. “It’s a life changing-program for the whole group. They will make a difference locally by implementing their programs and setting an example of leadership, especially in their respective schools. This kind of thing makes a real difference.”