community vetting of Asante Africa scholarship applicants

It started with the announcement of results for Kenya Certificate of primary Education exam. A few applicants for Asante Africa Foundation (AAF) scholarship had sat for the exam. Earlier in November, some of these students had boarded a matatu to Jeremy Academy in Limuru to attend scholarship interviews. As expected of any interview, the students got in with anxiety but luckily their teacher was in the room to assure them that the interview was friendly. 17 students from Kajiado alone participated in the interview competing for only about 4 vacancies. Circumstances as varied as the students were, were described  some moving the panelists almost to tears; some had been orphaned as early they could remember, others running away from abusive parents as well as forced marriages and many more.

With the help of the teacher, the panelists were able to decipher the need level from the explanation given by the students. At dusk, the panelists thought they had the right people to benefit with the scholarship; after all how could they fail after such assistance from the teacher! As a local, he knew about the politics around clans, age groups, families etc.

Time went by and by the end of December, the game plan changed. The students who were selected for the scholarship were all in class 8 (grade in which all students must sit for a national exam to qualify to join high school). They all had not done well with some scoring as low as 216 marks out of 500. This created an opportunity to do as we always do; visit applicants at home.

My contact person, Agnes Leina, agreed to seek leave of absence from her employer to accompany me to the village. At 5.30 am I left Narok town to arrive in Nairobi in time enough to avoid traffic jam that makes a journey of 10 minutes feels like 200km drive. Perched on a pillar by the roadside is Agnes waiting with a backpack that made me wonder how many days we might have to take as I thought she had packed her wardrobe. The bag had in it bananas and a few bottles of water. Water is such a precious commodity in interior of Kajiado that only the very generous would be kind enough to help a stranger.

It took us an hour or so on a very smooth road (a hallmark of present Kenya!) before reaching kajiado town where we had our first cup of tea for the day. As is always in Masai culture, Agnes would not tire to lower her head to reach the extended hand of a sitting elder. Everyone seemed to know her in this hotel! After a brief introduction, we had more cups of tea and mandazis (deep fried buns) than we could finish courtesy of the villagers who heard what had taken us there.

Time to hit the road and the first stop was at SDA Kajiado Rehabilitation and Rescue Center managed by Mrs Loki, a passionate lady out to fight against child abuse in all its forms. She narrated how just recently she had to endure insults from a frustrated father who missed a few heads of cattle from a possible suitor who had already sent the animals to the girl’s home but now had asked them back after hearing the girl had escaped to the centre. Watching us get dismayed by the story, she told us that that was a child’s play compared to what she had experienced in the past and that this one didn’t move her an inch.

From there we were at AIC Kajiado Primary Boarding school, strictly for girls. And with the head teacher in a meeting there was not much to do but turn back were it not for the kindness of one teacher (mrs Inoti) who saw visitors leaving crestfallen. She intervened and hearing who we are and what we do, she had to interrupt the head teacher’s meeting to have us get recognized by the school. With that we requested whether we could get a chance for girls boarding if need be. Our wish was granted and rapport established. It would not have been right to leave without us seeing how the school was making use of a building donated by FAWE (Forum for African Women Educationists). Little did we know that we would bump onto three girls that were lying hopelessly in the building. The three girls are all sisters who have been out of school because of lack of fee. Their story moved me so much that I wondered if I were meant to hear such stories or were meant for hard hearted people. Nevertheless I promised to send scholarship application form to Mrs Inoti for onward transmission to the girls.

Finally we were at Inkinye primary school, our meeting point with the Inkinye, Impiro and Sajiloni communities. Since the applicants were all from one large area we asked the schools involved to invite community members in the central school from where we could do community vetting of the applicants. This way we would take care of favoritism/biases arising from one belonging to a particular clan, or family or even from members of a particular age group.

As is always African, first  things first, taking care of your guests’ stomach. We were served with cold milk to cool our body after driving on a rough hot terrain. Within seconds we were invited into the head teacher’s office rather urgently. To our surprise, Agnes was to talk a girl into stopping from getting married so soon; at class 7 with 16 years of age. God hear us! The girl accepted to stick in school and learn. I hope she meant it.

At around 3 pm we were back to business and every word we said about AAF was met with ululations! “We are here to start a partnership with this community” I would say and a woman rose to offer the community gesture of appreciation; a beautiful Maasai necklace that has  never left my neck. With that I requested the community to select from the list the 3 most needy students. Men and women, moved away from us and discussed rather animatedly and yes! White smoke! They had selected the students. Surprisingly, all the students we had selected earlier none made it to the list. Reason, we were not able to get all the right details by interviewing alone. We needed an impartial hand and actual visit.

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