Today was by far the most rewarding day of my experience here in Africa. We arranged to pick up Lilian from her school to spend the day getting to know her and showing her around the Kimana School of Leadership and Professional Studies. When we greeted her, she was all-smiles as usual and radiated with joy, knowing she was about to have a very special opportunity. As we were leaving, her classmates wanted to make sure she would be safe and that she would return. Her peers really look up to her and admire her many accomplishments. She is number one in her class and a star track athlete, amongst many other things.
Before we left, I recorded an interview with Lilian, asking her to talk about her circumstances and what it would mean to her to receive financial support to get a high school and college education. I will post a video of the interview on Facebook, but I can re-cap what she said for the most part: Lilian is 14 years old and has 5 brothers. Her father is 85 years old and her mother is 60, but her father left them years ago. Now, she lives with her mother and two brothers in a two-room shack. Soon she will have to leave her home because her family no longer owns the land plot. They will move in to an unfinished two-room hut, with no roof over their heads. Aside from her oldest brother, Paul, none of her other brothers have been able to continue their education past grade 8. Due to their financial status, the same circumstances apply for Lilian. I asked Lilian what it would mean to her to have the opportunity to continue her education beyond grade 8. At the thought of this, she began to cry tears of joy and was at a loss for words. This moment was the pinnacle of my trip. To see a young woman gain a new hope for her future and receive the blessing of education reminded me why I had come to Africa—to bring hope and opportunity to the children here.
When we arrived at the Kimana School of Leadership and Professional Studies, I showed Lilian around the college campus and told her about the different courses available here. By bringing her to the college campus I hoped to provide her with a vision of what exists in her future if she continues to work hard in school and stay out of trouble. As a part of financially supporting her, I explained that she would need to update my grandmother on her report cards and do some yard work around the college compound. This way, she is learning to earn the things she wants in life, such as this scholarship, rather than just having them handed to her.
Today was a day of many firsts for Lilian. Here she is using a computer for the first time! She was so intrigued, watching the letters appear on the monitor as she pressed the keys on the keyboard. To many of us in America, a computer is just a common household commodity. To Lilian though, a computer is a very foreign and majestic thing. I also tried to explain the Internet to her. I showed her this travel blog and how I had posted about her on previous days. She was fascinated seeing her picture posted on the computer screen.
While I was showing Lilian the Internet, one of the students at the college, Lucy, joined us. Lucy is a leader amongst the students at the college and serves as a role model for many. I’m glad that Lilian got a chance to speak with Lucy and hear some advice from a woman very much like herself. It was beautiful to watch these women connect over their struggles of the past, accomplishments of the present, and dreams of their futures.
Lilian and I worked on choreographing dances together. We first connected when I came to dance with the children at her primary school, so this is something we really enjoy doing together. Today, I taught her the concept of “eight-counts” in music and explained how when you choreograph dances you string together the moves in counts of eight. This way, you stay with the beat of the music. She picked up on the concept very quickly and was eager to use the new knowledge as we danced together.
In the afternoon, we brought Lilian with us to the primary school that we went to yesterday with over 1,000 students. I had Lilian act as my assistant, helping me to organize the students and provide some sense of order. Though we tried our best, it was near impossible to control the children at this school. Nonetheless, it was important that Lilian gain experience in a leadership position.
In the evening, we drove Lilian home and met her younger brother and her mother. Lilian’s mother does not speak English but thankfully we had Joseph (a Masai friend of ours) to translate. We explained to Lilian’s mother the project we are going to embark on to fund her education. Hearing this, she was overwhelmed with joy and appreciation. She grabbed my hands and spoke to me in Swahili, telling me “God will bless you” many times. Words can’t capture how touching this moment was—standing in the front yard of a two-room shack in the middle of a field, feeling the grateful blessings from a family who had just received the priceless gift of hope.
When I get back home, I will hit the ground running raising money for this special young girl. Lilian has touched my heart in an unforgettable way. I will keep in touch with her and see that she continues to grow as a strong leader in her community.