Reason to give to the Zawadi Education Program: Dorah Owango
Freshman Dorah Owango arrived at Lakeland College with plans to major in international business. But it didn't take long for her to change direction.
"I'd like to study biochemistry," she says. "I'd like to do scientific research in the medical field. My ultimate goal is to help my country, my people, the best way I can."
Dorah, 18, arrived in Wisconsin from Nairobi, Kenya, in August, and about a month later, "the reality of leaving home really hit me," she says. "I won't see my family for a long time. That's tough."
Dorah enjoyed her childhood. Living in a modest stone house surrounded by wide-open spaces, Dorah climbed trees or just ran around with her four siblings. She fell asleep at night to the sounds of distant hyenas.
"It was a nice place, surrounded by mountains, forests and rivers," she says of her home. "I didn't watch TV and we didn't have video games."
Tragedy struck when Dorah was 9 and her mother passed away. Dorah moved in with an aunt and continued to work toward her goal of higher education.
"Difficult things only make you stronger," she says now.
Midway through her freshman year at Lakeland, Dorah said she's working hard in school – and validates the Zawadi Africa Education Fund that made it possible for her to be here.
"I'm really grateful," she says. "I have to succeed, and I know nobody will do the work for me. I'm so happy to have this chance, and I feel great responsibility. If I don't do well, they won't give others this chance. So I will work hard."
Reason to give to the Zawadi Education Program: Karen Lerindo
Karen Lerindo was studying at the University of Nairobi, in Kenya, when she was offered the opportunity to attend Lakeland College in Sheboygan, Wis. Though she knew she would miss her family and homeland, she jumped at the chance.
"I felt that getting an American education would give me a better platform to go back to my community and empower the girls through education," says Karen, a freshman at Lakeland. "When I left for the U.S., everyone was proud of me. They said, 'She's going to America!' "
Karen, who's majoring in international business with a minor in economics, is driven to "go back home and fight for the rights of the girls."
"It's like I'm living their dream," she adds.
Karen grew up as a member of the Maasai tribe in Loitokitok, Kenya, near the foothills of Mount Kilimanjaro. Many of the Maasai, a semi-nomadic people, continue to adhere to long-standing customs that sometimes include general inequality when it comes to women.
"Girls keep quiet," says Karen. "Many of the Maasai don't believe much in education for girls."
But Karen's parents do, and they encouraged her to go to school. She loved it. And through the Kenyan Education Fund and the Zawadi Africa Education Fund, Karen blossomed with each educational step she took.
"I know I am bright, and when you succeed, it's fun," she says with a smile. "We are encouraged to become women leaders," she says.
One of those leaders, a woman named Kakenya Ntaiya, has been featured as one of CNN's Top 10 Heroes for 2013. Ntaiya, who is from Karen's community, returned to Kenya after a U.S. college education and founded her village's first-ever primary school for girls.
"She gives me strength to do great things," Karen says of her countrywoman.
Karen, whose goal is to work for the Kenyan government's treasury department some day, likes Lakeland, but at times is deeply homesick for her parents, two brothers and two sisters.
"It's not always easy, but I encourage myself," she says. "I tell myself, I know I can make it."
Reason to give to the Zawadi Education Program: Betty Lukulu
When Betty Lukulu's mother lost her job at a collapsing international bank in Nairobi, Kenya, more than a decade ago, Betty's life changed dramatically.
"I moved from a private school in the city to a rural boarding school nine hours away from my family," says Betty, who was 9 years old at the time of her upheaval. "It was dusty there, and I had to carry water. It was very, very hot. And I really missed my family."
But Betty, 22, now a Lakeland College junior, felt fortunate. Back in Nairobi, she had seen girls with no path to education turning to prostitution or indentured servitude – which often involved becoming live-in babysitters.
"My parents didn't have any money, but my dad is a preacher, so I was able to attend a Christian school," recalls Betty. "I worked very hard, because I didn't want to let my family down. When you see your parents struggle, you feel like the only hope they have is through their children."
After high school, Betty applied at the office of the Zawadi Africa Education Fund, and her fate took a positive turn. When she found out she had been accepted by the program and would be granted a full scholarship to attend Lakeland College in Sheboygan, Wis., she called her dad.
"He said, ‘God has blessed us,'" she says, smiling at the memory. "He was extremely happy. My sister was screaming out loud with joy. I was just speechless."
In September, 2011, Betty boarded a plane bound for the U.S. She hasn't been back to Kenya since. "I miss my family a lot, but Lakeland is my first home now," Betty says. "I really like it here."
Betty's already strong work ethic was strengthened by the Zawadi Africa Education Fund's faith in her. "It made me want to work twice as hard," she says. "I want to show everybody why this organization is so important and why they do what they do."
In addition to being a standout student (she's majoring in accounting with a minor in economics), Betty is an orientation leader, an economics tutor and a peer mentor on campus.
Her long-term goal is to work for the United Nations and become a diplomat who helps fight for orphaned, underprivileged or special-needs children.
"If you work hard enough, you can become a great role model," she says. "If you work really hard, it doesn't matter what you have or don't have. Good things will happen."
Reason to give to the Zawadi Education Program: Emmaculate Dika
Growing up in Nairobi, Kenya, Lakeland College junior Emmaculate Dika endured a tough childhood.
When she was 7, her grandmother, whose home Emmaculate lived in with her mom and siblings, died. Just a year later, Emmaculate's mom passed away. With Emmaculate's father out of the picture, an aunt took her in. Money was scarce and living quarters were tight.
"It was hard," Emmaculate says today, as tears stream down her cheeks. "Sometimes I lost hope that I would ever get an opportunity. My main dream was to go to a university but my aunt told me we can't afford it. I just kept working to get good grades."
Then Emmaculate heard about the Zawadi Africa Education Fund, and her life changed forever.
"When the office called me and told me I had been chosen for the program, it was so awesome," Emmaculate recalls with a big smile. "It was the best moment of my life – the moment my dreams came true."
The Zawadi Africa Education Fund is supported by about 60 colleges and universities worldwide, including Lakeland College, near Sheboygan, Wis. The goal is to finance the undergraduate education of young, academically strong but impoverished East African women. After graduation, these women return to their home continent and become positive role models for young girls.
These days, Emmaculate is an intelligent 23-year-old with a ready smile and a comfortable demeanor. Majoring in international business with a minor in economics, she'd like to someday start her own company back home – in addition to opening a group home for children. At Lakeland, Emmaculate serves as a math tutor, saying, "It's a small way of giving back."
She hasn't been home since arriving at Lakeland three years ago, but while she misses Kenya, she likes it here. When she reflects on her past, emotions bubble to the surface. Yet she's at ease with her journey.
"My life has taught me to be courageous," she says. "Living without parents makes you strong. I think in a confident way, and I believe everything that happened to me when I was young molded me into the person I am now."