I recently returned to Canada after a three-week trip to the area of Kenya that ACCES has served since 1993. In Part 1, I shared some general observations about the region. Now I will share some stories about the impact that ACCES has had on several of our scholars. Next week, I will share our vision for the future of ACCES and the steps we are taking to make this dream a reality.
While in Kenya, I stayed in the town of Kakamega where our office is located. People were very curious about the purpose of my visit and approached me in an exceptionally friendly manner. They were intrigued by my pale skin and the fact that I was travelling alone. The area is not much of a tourist destination and, since COVID, I am told that very few foreigners have visited the area. When I explained that I worked for ACCES people would give me a big smile and explain their connection to the organization. Many people had met our founders George and Beth Scott, others knew someone who attended one of the seven elementary schools that ACCES built, while others knew someone or had benefitted themselves from our post-secondary scholarship program. Every person I met in Kakamega knew of ACCES, either from personal experience or its exemplary reputation. Most had a personal story to share. After observing the living conditions of people in the area, I am struck by what it means to live in poverty in western Kenya and the determination that our scholars demonstrate by qualifying to apply for our support. To be considered by ACCES, students need to demonstrate high performance on standardized tests and prove high relative need in the form of hardship. It is difficult to perform at the top echelon of one’s peer group regardless of living conditions. It is even harder when a person lives in poverty and must struggle to survive. I will share two of the many stories that resonated with me. They demonstrate the resilience necessary to be successful in a place where life challenges are the norm and people go to bed hungry on a regular basis.
One scholar who was an orphan and, therefore, completely self-reliant, shared that in his first year of university he did not have enough money to pay the school fees. He decided to enrol and figure out the finances as he studied. In Kenya, you can start classes and do not need to pay all your fees until exam time at the end of the semester. After classes each day, he would make ‘chapatis’ (a variation of naan bread) and sell them to his peers at school. He would make bricks whenever he could find time including evenings, holidays, and weekends and, once they were cured, delivered them by hand to construction sites for payment. He struggled to make ends meet and keep up with his busy schedule while trying to study. He feared he might have to defer his education but, in the spring, he heard about ACCES from a classmate. He applied for and was selected as a scholarship recipient in his second year which meant that he could stop making and delivering bricks and could focus on his studies and his ‘chapatis’ business. This former scholar has worked for ACCES for more than ten years and has gone on to complete his PhD in Business Administration.
Another scholar shared that university classes had already started and he was desperate to have the opportunity to go to university, which he had no means to do without a scholarship. He had applied for an ACCES scholarship but was unsuccessful because of some confusion about his background – he came from a polygamist family and some of his extended family had a relatively high standard of living, although he lived in abject poverty. He camped outside of the ACCES office until he was able to speak to someone about his application. It was getting dark and the ACCES agent who met him suggested that they could travel to the village immediately to do the home visit. He travelled with the agent and returned to the office the next day to check on his application. The agent confirmed that he would be a scholarship recipient. The young man went directly from the ACCES office to his university, which was over 100km away with only the clothes on his back, which is all he really owned. He now has a doctorate in Disaster Preparedness and Environmental Modelling and works at a high level in government.
Life is not easy for our scholars, even with a scholarship which covers a large portion of their tuition. All the current students I spoke with shared that they struggle with their living expenses, to pay the rent and to find an occasional meal. At university and college, much of their peer group consists of students who can afford much more, providing a constant reminder of their humble background and the disparity of life experiences in Kenya. These students share a resilient outlook and are committed to completing their studies, many sharing that they would be hungry whether they were in school or not.
Some of the greatest stories I heard were about the ways that our scholars have been able to impact their own communities with the income they receive from employment gained through higher education. One scholar shared that he ran 5 kilometres of electrical service from a neighboring community to his village so that everyone could benefit from power. At first, neighbors simply plugged into his service but over time many have been able to run their own service from the grid he provided. Currently, the community gets water from a nearby stream. The scholar is saving money to run a water line to the community, which will have a positive impact on the village’s standard of living and general health.
Most of the alumni I met opened the conversation by saying something to the effect that if it were not for ACCES they would not be where they are today. Every one of these people mentioned their heartfelt appreciation for the kindness of strangers and wanted me to deliver a sincere message of thanks to our donors.
In closing, I would like to keep my promise to the scholars that I met and share their heartfelt gratitude. Your generosity has made a world of difference for thousands of students, their families, and their communities. Sending students to university has, in many cases, had an exponential impact on the communities in which they were raised and provided hope to others who have their own personal dreams for a better life for themselves and their families. Thank you.
The ACCES family wishes you a very happy holiday season. Join us next week when, in the spirit of a new year, I share our vision for the future of ACCES.
Kevin Fadum, Executive Director
December 22, 2021