The Sky’s the Limit (Read More)

October 12, 2012
The Sky’s the Limit (Read More)

As a young child, Maurice Otieno Nyang’oro watched planes fly over his home in Mukuru kwa Njenga, one of Nairobi’s largest slums. He dreamed of flying away.

“Ever since I can remember, I’ve wanted to fly,” says Maurice. Thanks to Marianist-funded scholarships and the compassion of many in the Marianist world, opportunities are opening for Maurice— and several of his peers — to make their way out of Mukuru forever.

“I knew education was the only way to unlock this padlock of poverty,” says Maurice, who received financial support to attend Our Lady of Nazareth as a youngster and excelled as a student. Four years ago, he received another OLN-sponsored scholarship and completed high school this year. He credits his mother and the school for his continued success.“ The quality education I received at OLN has opened many doors for me.”

From slum to safe haven

Our Lady of Nazareth was founded in 1992 by the Irish Sisters of Mercy to meet the needs of children living in Mukuru — a devastatingly brutal and impoverished slum.

According to Amnesty International, approximately1.5 million people, half of Nairobi’s population, live in slums. A study conducted in June 2009 by the organization declared the slums, including Mukuru, a “human rights black hole.”

The Marianists assumed responsibility for Our Lady of Nazareth — located in the heart of Mukuru — in 1997.With Marianist Father Marty Solma as school manager, the Marianists  improved academic offerings, constructed new buildings — including a 10,000-volume library and an arts center complex — added computer and science labs and beautified the campus. “We transformed it into a real oasis,” says Father Marty, now in his 13th year leading the school. (In July, Father Marty was appointed provincial-designate for the U.S. Province. See story on page 20.)

OLN students call the school a “safe haven” that shelters them from the harsh realities of slum life. For many, the school is the one place they can count on. “I didn’t have any where to go except OLN,” says Maurice. Not only do many students have nowhere else to go, they have nowhere else to eat. OLN serves students one hot meal a day — often the only meal the children receive.

The youngest and the poorest

The school’s staff of 65 includes teachers, counselors and mentors for approximately 1,800 students in kindergarten through eighth grade. Stephen Ochoo Omollo, an OLN graduate, credits the teaching staff for much of his academic success. He also acknowledges the social workers who helped him when hi sfather became gravely ill. “Thanks to the school counselor, I always had someone I could share my problems with.”

Stephen, 24, graduated from OLN in 2000 and recently completed his final college exams. In November, he will graduate as a registered nurse.

Even though OLN students come from one of the poorest slums in Nairobi, as they venture into high school they are often noticed for their exemplary behavior.

Father Marty attributes this to “the Marianist system of education and the fact that Mary is central to our spirituality.” Father Marty and the Marianists in Eastern Africa believe that educating the youngest and the poorest is the best way to address the issues of poverty and social injustice. “It also is the best way we can heed Jesus’s word, ‘When you do it to the least, you do it to Me.’”

Like manna from heaven

Jenipher Nyawera Kahuthu, 25, graduated from OLN in 1999. Her parents transplanted the family to Mukuru from her grandfather’s rural home, which they shared with his two wives and 15 children.

Yet life in Mukuru wasn’t better. Jenipher and her two siblings shared a one-room dwelling with their parents. She remembers often going hungry. “Because so many in the slums are uneducated and unemployed, putting food on the table was an overwhelming task. So we went without.”

Prior to attending OLN, Jenipher walked to school— a daily round-trip of nearly 10 miles. “I was six yearsold. My parents could not afford to pay bus fare, so I had to wake up very early to get to school on time,”she says. “Unfortunately, I was often punished forbeing late.” When OLN opened a half-mile from herhome, she says, “It was like manna from heaven.”

“The best day of my life”

Jenipher earned one of OLN’s scholarships to secondary school, and went on to study at a public university. Now a fourth-year medical student, she plans to specialize in pediatrics.

“I am still benefitting from the Marianist-sponsored scholarships that allowed me to continue my education. In two years, I will be a doctor. Without the Marianists, I surely would not have come this far.”

Jared Ondera Aming’a, 24, graduated from OLNin 1999. He, too, qualified for an OLN-sponsored scholarship to a good secondary school in Nairobi. “Winning that scholarship was the best day of my life. At that moment, I resolved to work hard to get accepted to a university,” he says. He recently earned a bachelor’s degree in commerce from the University of Nairobi, the first OLN graduate to do so.

“I am now hoping to get myself a nice job,” says Jared. “Life will never be the same again.” Jared has worked at an insurance company and recently accepted a position at PricewaterhouseCoopers, a global financial advisory firm.

The lucky ones

Father Marty calls Maurice, Jenipher, Jared and Stephen — and other OLN success stories — “the lucky ones. They got scholarships to high school to continue their education. Most kids do not,” he says.“ These young men and women are bright, ambitious and wanting good in their lives. But they are typical of so many kids at OLN. They just need a chance.”

But the odds of going beyond high school are slim. Father Marty explains: “Only about five percent of students who complete high school gain entrance to universities. What do kids do when they are frustrated and there are no opportunities?” Sadly, they often turn to drugs, alcohol and life on the street, he says.

“There are very bright kids in the slums who are languishing there because they lack financial assistance,” Jared says. “All they need is a means of achieving their dreams.”

Maurice now stands at the threshold of realizing his childhood dream. The little boy who watched planes fly over the slum graduated from OLN in 2003 and attended Mang’u High School, a prestigious high school in Nairobi — one of the top five schools in Kenya. Now 19, he is hoping to get a Marianist sponsorship to attend flight school.

“I will become an airline pilot,” he says. All he needs is financial assistance. With a donor’s help, the sky’s the limit.

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