A few years ago, Shamim Okolloh started a noble initiative in her old school. That of helping girls in her former high school complete their secondary school. And there is an interesting story behind why she is doing so. I had a talk with her about this. Read on.
Education for many young children across the world is a privilege. Kenya is no exception. Even with free primary education, a significant number of children are still unable to go to school, and even for those who manage to go to school, staying IN school is sometimes an even greater challenge. We see these stories in the news all the time.
And this is a situation that 33-year-old Shamim Okolloh is all too familiar with. She tells me:
“Going to school is a normal affair for many children until one day, it can’t happen anymore. When they can’t walk into the classroom to take their lessons as usual. When teaching is interrupted in class and they are handed a letter asking them to leave the school immediately and only return when their parent or guardian has cleared the balance.”
These are situations that Shamim experienced when in primary school, in instances that would see her leave class and spend the rest of the afternoon at the steps of Consolata Church until it was time to go home.
When she went to high school, it was a little bit different. She attended Kaimosi Girls in Western province, and it is here that Shamim longed to see her name among those supposed to be sent home because of school fees arrears. She longed to see her name on that list because that meant at trip back home to Nairobi to enjoy the weekend, complete with a warm shower and chapo’s to boot!
Shamim envied those who got sent home, wishing she would be in their shoes. The girls who would be sent home for school fees – some would return after a few days, others a few weeks, others months. Some never returned at all.
One day, while in Form 2, she received a letter from her classmate Kate.
In the letter, Kate was asking Shamim if she could talk to her parents and ask them if they could help pay her (Kate’s) school fees. Kate was desperate and was looking for anybody who could help her complete her studies, even asking friends such as Shamim to plead her case to her parents.
Sad to say that Kate never made it back to school.
But while in her third year of college, she had to return home as she was unable to secure enough funds to enable her complete her studies. It is during this time that memories of her schoolmates who would be sent home for fees came back to her, flooding her mind.
However, there was some luck for her back at her campus –Spelman College.
Female alumni contributed funds to the campus, and it is through the generous giving of these women that Shamim was able to receive a partial scholarship to enable her complete her studies. Through their giving, Shamim was able to complete her studies.
In 2010, she also secured a full scholarship to attend the Clinton School of Public Service in Arkansas.
It was through the giving acts of others that planted a seed in Shamim’s heart.
She made it her mission to set up a similar fund to assist girls at her former high school –Kaimosi Girls who were unable to pay their school fees. In 2010, she was able to get a few Kaimosi Old Girls together for their first reunion at the school. These alumni raised about Ksh 80,000/ for scholarships. The reunions are an annual affair, and last year, they raised well over Ksh 400,000 from old girls around Kenya and the diaspora.
The Kaimosi Alumni Reunions happen every year during the second term (June/July), and in addition to the scholarships, the old girls award top students, staff and a teacher of the year. The support given continues all-year round with a mentorship program.
Shamim is based in Little Rock, Arkansas (US), where she works at an international NGO (Heifer International). She is also owner of Mimi Mwafrika, a small business that provides hand crafted fashion accessories to the American market.
She sells beaded key chains for $5, with the proceeds going towards the Kaimosi Old Girls scholarships. Last year, her goal was to sell 100 key chains which she sold out. This year, her target it so sell 200 key chains in her ‘Keys 2 Education‘ campaign. Shamim’s initiative has to date assisted over 100 girls at her old school.
“For me it’s been a blessing. We are all volunteering our time, investing our treasures and seeing the vision take off with so much support and pride from the Kaimosi Girls High School family is great example of how ordinary Kenyan women, many who are mothers, build community through philanthropy.
One thing I have learnt from the Kaimosi Old Girls Initiative is that women who share an experience can rally together to support each other in reaching a common goal. The Kaimosi old girls don’t know each and every student who has benefits from the scholarships, but we encourage each other week in and week out, have fun and get the job done.”
Shamim is a mom to a 10-month-old baby boy, and I ask her about her motherhood journey.
“Motherhood journey has been great – so many unknowns but I’ve learned to have somewhat of a plan then go with the flow. Being in the US and blending raising an American child while infusing my childhood and culture has been interesting. Plus working, taking care of the household (there are no housegirls here or at least ones we can afford), raising a child, establishing a small business and philanthropy all in one big sufuria. At the end of most days I thank God for him choosing me to raise His child and I pray in my journey both as a mother and global citizen I fulfill my purpose.”
And that is how Shamim is making a difference. Remember it is never too late to start something, however small. Be encouraged to do something that will change someone else’s life.
If you know of a mom who is giving back to society in her own way (or you are one), tell me about it on firstname.lastname@example.org
See last week’s featured mom – Maryanne Kariuki whose birth of her premature twins birthed the A & J Initiative.
Here are more images from Shamim.