Meet ASAH’s “Kenya Kids”

We continue to be deeply impressed by the drive and unique personalities of each of the ASAH students. We hope you enjoy getting to know them. We currently have eight students who are Sudanese Refugees that we oversee, and empower education for in Kenya. Read a little about them below:

Moses is our in-country manager on top of his university studies. He and Ron communicate regularly via phone and messaging at all hours of the day and night to discuss the needs of the students. Moses travels to the schools, communicates with principals and head teachers, and brings food and meets with teachers on primary school “visiting days”. He takes students for medical care, oversees the apartment they all live in during school breaks, arranges for extra tutoring,manages the distribution of spending money, pays school fees, and whatever else is needed.

John and Joseph graduated from secondary school this past December and had intended to return to South Sudan when thecurrent conflict broke out. They are now staying with the extended family of Michael, a student who was with us through Form Three (junior year). Michael completed the KCSE National Exam at Kakuma Refugee camp this year, as well.

James and Simon are in Form Two (sophomore year of high school) at a school near Nairobi – Laiser Hill Academy. They are sponsored by Ron & Nancy and were brought from Kakuma Refugee Camp to Nakuru by Moses during the Kenyan post-election violence at New Years, 2008. They were both enrolled in Standard 4 and it wasn’t long before James was at the top of his class. Simon struggled with Kiswahili, as is the case for many South Sudanese students who have no background in it, but he is a diligent and steady student who is performing well in high school.

We also have three siblings in the program. (Michael was a fourth and is the eldest of this group). When not in school, they return to Kakuma to spend time with grandmother Akuekdit and five y.o. brother Dominic Deng. The children were orphaned in 2008 when their mother died from post partum bleeding following the birth of Dominic in Juba.

Deborah Agot is in Form Four (a senior) at Shiner’s Girls High School, a sister school to Roots Academy. She is a good cook and can prepare the traditional Dinka foods that all of our Kenya students enjoy. She would like to become a teacher, but that will depend on her KCSE performance. Agot struggles with math and C+ is a minimum requisite for most higher education and teaching certificate programs.

Abraham Akol is in eighth grade at Roots and has been a class prefect for many years.  He is a very good swimmer and football (Soccer) player. Throughout his time in primary school, Akol has been a top academic achiever and will probably qualify for a “national” high school next year.

Their sister, Sarah Akuol, started our program in first grade at Roots. At 12, she didn’t even know the alphabet and began in Standard 1 (1st grade), finishing 2nd in her class. She has continued with excellent performance through second and third grades, so Moses and Ron felt she should skip fourth and join the fifth grade. Since she would be the only ASAH student attending shool in Nakuru next year – 100 miles from Eldoret – we have moved Sarah to a primary school in a town near their home. Though she dearly misses her good friends at Roots, where there are many Dinka students, she is near the top of her new fifth grade class, performing so well that she has been put in charge of seven new South Sudanese refugees, both boys and girls. In addition to tutoring them in English and Kiswahili, she has mentored them on life at a Kenyan primaryschool, teaching them how to use the bathrooms, how to wash their clothes and where to hang them to dry. She tells them her own story and assures them they will soon be reading and speaking in English and Kiswahili the way she is. She urges the girls to work hard at school so that they will not be forced to marry young and they might help others. Sarah wants to be a journalist because she thinks it is important for people to know what is happening in the world around them, and her world has become wider because she has had the opportunity to watch and read the news.

We were able to see Abraham and Daniel Mareng at Roots Academy as it was family visiting day. Moses brought Sarah from her school in Eldoret to visit as well. The students enjoy visits from their “family” and the extra food we bring – fruits and other things they don’t see very often. We then tried to visit Deborah at her nearby secondary school, Shiner’s Girls Academy, but they were in class until 4:30 on Saturday. The senior girls are preparing for the KCSE exam series in October and November and have “extra tuition” from 6 to 8 a.m. and 7 to 9 p.m. on weekdays, and three hours per day on Saturdays and Sundays. The schools are so strict on visiting policies, they won’t make an exception for sponsors who have traveled from the US to see a student. We had to get back on the road to Kitale and staying that long would have forced night time driving – not a good idea.

We have two Daniels in our program. Both are from Duk Payuel. One of them had been friends with our students for some years before he joined our program. His father, Dhieu, was a security guard at the ASAH School. In the fall of 2012, Dhieu died of a sudden heart attack. That January, we invited his daughter, Agot, to join the ASAH School for Girls in Duk Payuel, and Daniel to join our Kenya program.

I’m not able to visit Daniel Galuak on this trip because his school, located on the south slopess of Mt Elgon, north of Bungoma, is in session and accessed only by motorbike on a rough trail. Ron has known him since 2009 when he lived in the same area as our other students and spent time at their house. Galuak is very quiet, does not shirk work or responsibility, and is a very strong student in Form 3 (Junior). He had a sponsor who lost the ability to continue at the midpoint of his Form 1 year, which forced him to return to Duk Payuel. Daniel is the eldest child in the family and his father felt that he should continue, so he sold 10 of the family’s 12 cows in order for him to return to school in Eldoret.

Lastly, but the first student I greeted when I arrived at Roots, is our other Daniel and the 19-year-old I sponsor personally. Though he’s not an orphan, Daniel’s father is elderly, blind from a military injury during the civil war, and unable to provide for the family. His mother is close to my age but looks many years older. Life has not been easy for them. They have one other son a few years older than Daniel, and have lost a few in between them. Daniel Mareng’s pet name is Matier, the name given to a son born after a previous son dies.

I first met Daniel Mareng in Duk Payuel in December, 2007, with Joseph Akol Makeer, Kevin Brooks, our Vice President, and Matt McGregor, our cameraman. Daniel is one of the boys who appears in our documentary, African Soul, American Heart. When I returned to Duk in the fall of 2010, I found him at the clinic, where he was a regular visitor and a favorite of the staff. He made himself useful doing odd jobs.

He came to welcome me and became my right arm during my next three visits in 2011. He kept my video and camera batteries charged, carried my heavy pack as we moved around the village, and from the clinic to the ASAH site and back. He delivered photos I had taken on previous visits to the people in them and was indispensable to me, because on the first visit back, I was on my own. Each day, like a broken record, he would repeat, “ I want to go to school.” And I would tell him that I couldn’t help him with that.

I was in Duk in February, June and July, and December – bookending the rainy season with many days of bad weather and flooding, so I now avoid travel in June through December. Landing on the airstrip can be impossible and road travel equally so.

The JDF clinic manager and one of the nurses impressed on me how deserving Daniel was of an opportunity. (Not that there aren’t hundreds and thousands of others). They believed he would have no opportunity for proper schooling, and that his parents could not provide for him. On the December return, Daniel and I traveled with our program manager to Juba and got him papers that would allow him to attend school in Kenya.

The pressure of English PLUS Kiswahili, the lack of sleep, the diet, and living with our other students in the apartment during term breaks all presented challenges. I don’t think he had any idea what he was getting into, and the adjustment was difficult,but Moses has provided mentoring and guidance for which he has expressed sincere gratitude. He has turned out to be the type of young man I knew him to be – hardworking, a diligent student, friendly to all, good at sports, and well-liked by teachers.

Thank you for making it possible for these students to receive Protection, Education, and be Empowered to dream.

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