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