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Hatua Likoni offers scholarships and mentors to Kenya's students

The nonprofit supports Kenyan students who need mentoring or lack the means to pay for school. The next problem to solve: 9,000 desks for 14,000 students.

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Everyone is young, in their 20s. Most are high-school graduates; some are not. These are young people from the community we’re working in with the same background as the beneficiaries we are trying to support.

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Working in Kenya is not easy. Corruption is rampant. It’s a factor in absolutely everything that you do. That makes for a very challenging working environment.

Also, working with young people with a high-school education, you’ve got limited writing skills amongst the staff – but you also have an incredible wealth of local know-how, connections, credibility. A young Kenyan mentoring another young Kenyan has much more influence than I could. I think the advantages outweigh the challenges.

My thinking is that one of the greatest sources of impact that an organization can have is on its staff. In order to live our mission, we need to be creating jobs for young people in our community – finding those talented, passionate people.

What are the overseas volunteers doing for the project?
Short-term volunteers will have a fun activity, learn the culture, enjoy Kenya – teach at the nursery school or spend time at the orphanage, helping to cook, washing and ironing clothes, playing with the kids, or helping them with homework. Longer-term volunteers have staff-like responsibilities. Often volunteers come with better written communication skills than we have on our staff so they’ll help with writing, international donor outreach, event planning.

What do you hope to do with it moving forward?
We’re going to focus on education. Our goal is to provide secondary high school scholarships for top students from low-income families. We have a rigorous application process. We mentor the students throughout and provide guidance. Our goal is to then continue on with those students throughout university. We graduated our first two students, and one is in college and another is about to enroll. We’re graduating 11 secondary students in November.

The other goal we have is to improve the public school education infrastructure in Kenya. Scholarships do a great job in reaching top students. But there are 14,000 primary students in Likoni’s public schools, and we’re only able to add about 20 to 25 students per year into our scholarship program. So what we’re working on right now is fundraising to put desks into all the public primary schools in Likoni. Right now, there are enough desks for 9,000 students out of the 14,000. So if you crowd an extra student into each desk there are still 1,500 kids sitting on the floor.

Interview has been edited and condensed.

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