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Apr 18, 2019

Joy- a Shining Example

Joy with Jim and Pam Lemons
Joy with Jim and Pam Lemons

Each year the UMOJA Project adds at least 11 new students to the cohort of young adults attending post-sedoncary education. Below is the story of one of the students being supported by this program. Joy's story was written by Pam Lemons.

When Joy entered the UMOJA Project in the Chulaimbo region of Kenya as an 8-year-old child, she was living with her mother who was a nurse and single head of her household. Joy’s father died when she was two years old and her mother had raised her family (six children) without much support from her family of origin. She did attend Nursing School and worked full time to meet her family’s basic needs. When Joy was born (the youngest sibling) she was premature and not expected to live. She not only overcame that early obstacle, but numberous others as time progressed.

Joy was in fourth grade when the assistance program that we know as the UMOJA Project became available to her primary school and she easily qualified for the help.  Even as a young child she was determined to pursue her education and had a long-term goal of becoming a Nurse- like her mum.  When she was in 8thgrade her mother died suddenly (literally at the hospital on her scheduled shift) and just like that, Joy was an orphan. Her brother suggested she go to a “Girls Home," as not one of her siblings had the capacity to provide her housing… but as Joy told us later—“I knew what happened to twelve year old girls unlucky enough to end up in group homes.”

She was taken in by her Mother’s brother who lived in Nairobi and lived with him and his wife for forms 1 and 2 of secondary school… until he acquired another wife and Joy was turned out of his household.  A teacher took Joy in (who knew and loved her), paid her fees and supported her for her final two years of secondary education.  She sat for the Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education and qualified for post secondary Education- but had no means of funding herself and instead returned to the Chulaimbo area and to the Umoja Project. She became an intern at the UMOJA Project when she was 18 (May, 2016). 

For the Lemons, a couple close to the project it “love at first sight” as they encountered this resilient, capable and charismatic young woman who was making such an impact on the children she encountered in her role as mentor. She never asked for assistance but when questioned did share a bit of her history and her long term goal of somehow going to Nursing School and becoming a pediatric nurse. Jim, as a Neonatologist (newborn specialist) and Pam, a neonatal nurse practitioner, they readily understood her drive to better the lives of Kenya’s children. They introduced her to the CEO of the Moi Teaching and Referral Hospital and asked for his consideration to allow Joy to enter their nursing program in Eldoret. He looked over her paperwork and immediately promised her a spot in the program.

In the fall semester of 2018, Joy’s class of 104 students elected her as class representative, as her leadership potential is evident to everyone who meets her.  She is thriving in her new environment. The greater Umoja fraternity is proud of her and what she has accomplished in her short life. She is a shining example to all the girls (and boys) who knew her in primary school or as an UMOJA intern and who eagerly follow her progress… knowing that if she can make it- then so can they.

The Umoja Project recently celebrated their 11thanniversary and continues to make a huge impact in the lives of thousands children and young adults.  They have shown how a sustainable program can vastly improve the outcome of orphans and vulnerable children, lifting up an entire community. We look forward to the next 10 years as the ripple effect continues to grow, and Joy blossoms into her career.

Joy with Denise Soltis and Leonard Otieno
Joy with Denise Soltis and Leonard Otieno
Feb 21, 2019

Sharon Got UP

Sharon and Linda Olasya, Deputy Director of Umoja
Sharon and Linda Olasya, Deputy Director of Umoja

Meet Sharon!

Sharon has been a recipient of the Umoja Project since class 5 primary school. She has received school lunch, uniforms, a blanket, a lamp to study, secondary tuition, a job as a project assistant, and now tuition for her Survey program at Ramogi Institute of Advanced Technology in Kisumu. Sharon lost her father in class 3 and as her mother struggle to care for the family, her Aunt was able to take her in so that she attend an Umoja Project school. Sharon says, if not for Umoja Project she would have ended up on the streets.

During my January 2019 visit to the project, I had the opportunity to sit with Sharon and evaluate her progreess in her program. She shared her gratitude for the project and her desire to give back to the community that has given her so much hope. She credits Umoja Project for "molding her into an important person." This December she joined with other Umoja Project Alumni to donate money to provide secondary scholarships for up to two students. She is proud that she is giving back to an organization that has given her so much.

When I asked her what she would like to share with younger students her face lit up when she talked about the GET Up program. Clearly it has made an important impact on her. She hopes to become a GET UP Mentor so she can share the lessons she learned in the program "to focus on the future". Watch the video of Sharon.

Sharon and Denise chat about Umoja Project
Sharon and Denise chat about Umoja Project


Feb 11, 2019

School Year Begins in Kenya

Secondary Day School Umoja Scholars
Secondary Day School Umoja Scholars

January is a very busy time in Kenya as children are enrolled in their new school year. Students start their year in January, have three terms, and finish with end of year exams in November. 

This year our Umoja students, who are progressing on to secondary school, have much to celebrate. The government is providing some funding for all children to attend secondary school, which helps to encourage children to continue their education. However, for our orphaned and vulnerable children the amount of fees remaining may still be too much for them to cover.

The great news is that since the government is chipping in some funding, the Umoja Partnership can utilize our funds to reach more children. Our ultimate goal is for 100% of our children to go to secondary school. This year we had 72 children who scored well enough on the KCPE (end of year testing) to qualify for Umoja Project scholarships for high school. Of those children, 21 received outside scholarships, which provide increased funding for uniforms and books. We were able to fund 45 Form 1 (first year) students. This brings our total to 135 Umoja students currently supported in secondary school for 2019. 

Reflecting on our goal to send all students to school, most of the six remaining students are enrolled and attending. Only one child had not yet enrolled at the time of my visit in January.

Umoja had a large event on January 20th with the guardians and secondary students. One of the county government politicians came to speak about his own struggle as an orphan. Attached are a few pictures from our event. Jeconia also spoke and did a skit for the crowd. Jeconia is a special student, as he has lost the vision in one eye. He also has complete hearing loss in one ear and partial hearing loss in his other ear. The project helped him get a hearing aid, which has really opened up his world.

I send greetings from Kenya and many thanks for your support. It is with your support that these children are given hope for a brighter future. Asante sana!

Jeconia, Form 2 at St. George
Jeconia, Form 2 at St. George's Sianda an his mom.
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