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Roleen

Roleen was being sponsored by an American woman who had promised to send her right through high school. But at the end of grade 9, the woman failed to send the funds and that's when The Small Project got involved.

Our helper Pauline has a small business of her own (what Kenyans call a “side hustle”) organizing trips for visitors to the country. A few years ago, she was escorting a pair of American women around and part of their experience involved visiting a couple of Kenyan schools. One of the women, after seeing the schools and hearing about Pauline’s work with The Small Project, said she wanted to sponsor two students through high school. Despite Pauline’s entreaties to funnel the money through The Small Project, the visitor insisted that she wanted Pauline to look after it independently. And so, Pauline, somewhat naively but with her usual big heart, helped to identify two worthy girls about to enter grade 9. Before leaving for home, the woman left Pauline with enough money to pay for grade 9, along with her contact information so Pauline could get in touch for the funds necessary for grade 10. Pauline dutifully sent her a couple of update emails through the year, but when it came time to ask for more money, well, you guessed it: the woman vanished. She never replied to emails and never answered the phone nor returned Pauline’s calls. It was as though she never existed.

Now Pauline was stuck. What does she do? What does she tell these two kids? Well, Pauline being Pauline, she digs into her own pocket and pays for the first term at grade 10 herself. But Pauline is not wealthy, and she was already paying school fees and expenses for her own three kids. Covering the costs for these other two girls was not sustainable. And so, somewhat sheepishly, Pauline asked us if The Small Project would step in and help. Of course, we said yes and soon found some folks who agreed to help us with the necessary funds. And at the end of the day, this was a great decision for us because both of these young women have done very well.

Roleen Wamucii Njaramba is one of those girls. Now 21, Roleen is the oldest of four children. Her younger siblings range from five to 15 years of age. Her family keeps a vegetable garden on a small plot of land that they rent. When there is work for him, her father works at a posho mill. (Posho mills, which range from huge factories to small one person operations, are where grain is ground into flour. Often it is maize or corn that is ground into unga (essentially polenta), which is used to make ugali, a staple food in much of Africa.) Roleen’s mother sells second-hand clothes in the local market, called the mitumba. The family income is both precarious and small. They get by but there is not a lot left over. Roleen’s parents are very supportive of her and she calls them at least once a week.

 

Roleen finished secondary school at Othaya Girls High School, which is in the town of Othaya near Nyeri in the rolling hill country of Central Kenya where abundant rain and good soils are conducive to tea and coffee plantations. Roleen did well enough on the final national exams at the end of Form 4 (grade 12) that the government placed her in the Bachelor of Business and Information Technology program at Mount Kenya University. This was, happily, Roleen’s first choice. Her campus is in Thika, a small city about an hour north of Nairobi that has grown into a bedroom community for the big city now that it is connected to Nairobi by a major highway.

Apt block courtyard.jpg

The inside courtyard of Roleen's apartment.

Wash day!

Roleen shares a flat with two other girls also in The Small Project. (She calls them her “sisters”.) It’s about a 20-minute walk to campus. The girls pool their food money and take turns cooking the evening meal. They clearly get along well. Roleen has other friends from school and is active in the chess club, and frequently goes to tournaments in and around Nairobi. She also plays board games like Scrabble with this group. On Sunday she attends church.

Roleen is taking many of the same sorts of courses one would study in a similar program here in Canada: programming, internet security and control, and business intelligence and analytics. She says she really enjoys the programming courses “as coding is a bit complex thus challenging the mind and enhancing logical thinking and problem-solving skills”. She reports that her classes are fairly large, averaging around 150 students, but her instructors are all very good and they try to be interactive while teaching.

 

Roleen is thinking ahead to life after she graduates next year. She has been actively networking in Nairobi during her job placements and feels she has a good shot at securing something. While getting a “real” job for a newly minted university graduate is by no means a sure thing in Kenya, we are as optimistic as we can be for Roleen. She is bright, articulate, hardworking and blessed with a cheerful demeanour. 

Roleen is very grateful for the support she has received from The Small Project. “The Small Project has been the biggest blessing in my life, and I hope that I will be able to do the same for someone else.” She extends her thanks to all the supporters of The Small Project.

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