How Oleleshwa and Kisaruni Changed My Life

Author: Natalie Llamas

Tags: Africa, Quarter Finalist, Volunteering

On July 20, 2015, 17 American, Canadian, Ecuadorian, and Irish students departed from Washington DC with imaginations running wild over what they would experience in the Maasai Mara region in Kenya after over 20 hours of plane and bus rides. When my group reached our final destination of our camp in the backyard of a primary school we were amazed by the natural beauty surrounding us. Over the next three weeks we helped construct a post surgical unit for the local health clinic, go on a water walk with the Mamas, and even go on a safari spotting elephants, giraffes, and lions.

However, throughout all that I experienced in the course of a month, I was in awe of how devoted the brilliant young women were to their family and to their course work. I heard multiple stories of how girls aged 13 or younger risked their lives and ran away from home to avoid being married just to continue to go to school. I was touched by the story of my guide Panina who ran away at the age of 12 risking both her life and her mother’s to live with her teacher in order to finish primary school and eventually graduate from Kisaruni Technical College and move on to the University of Nairobi. I teared up at the story of how her best friend Wilta lived on the bank of the river by herself at the age of 13 to avoid circumcision who will now be joining Panina at the University of Nairobi. In their society, it is the norm to see young girls drop out of school once they begin menstruating to stay and help with the home and then at around 14 be circumcised and married off to much older men.

I had the amazing privilege to tour Oleleshwa, an all girls secondary school about an hour drive from Kisaruni. It was on this tour that I really learned what it meant to be a scholar and to have a love for education. The students at Oleleshwa, or learners as they are referred to, wake up at 3:30 in the morning in order to get their chores done early so that they can have more time for school work and do not go to sleep until 11 pm after more chores and school work. Their dedication to learning and helping each other is easily reflected by the schedule they set up for themselves when the typical school day only lasts from 9-3.

Speaking to these remarkable women who were all around my age made me realize that your education really can take you anywhere. Despite the lack of support that these girls received from their fathers and community, their mothers and school teachers were always there to help them succeed. While many students in America and around the globe complain about having to go to school everyday, it is a true blessing to be able to attend and not worry whether or not it is the last day you will see your friends in the classroom. I hold on to this every day as a piece of motivation that anything is possible in a school building.