Earlier this year, Kenya Keys founder Rinda interviewed one of our college students, Khalid, on her trip to Kenya. This is her moving account of that interview.
Khalid walks in, his thin frame, his smile lighting up my dreary places. We hug, despite protocols, so happy to see each other. The college he attends is near to where we are today.
As he starts to talk, I suddenly know why I am here. I know beyond all doubt. I could turn around, reverse my whole journey, and know it was all worth it, just to hear these words spill from him. Just one of our students. One whose trajectory in life was changed by Kenya Keys.
“Ah, Mama,” he says, “things are good. My grandmother had the growth removed from her body. I’m doing well in school. I have a big idea.” Khalid never knew who his father was. His mother died of TB when he was nine. “I remember caring for her,” he says. “She was so sick. My grandmother and I were together from then on. My grandmother struggled and struggled to give me life, but it was never easy.”
We knew this about him, that he was one of our students whose background had been even more challenging than others. Compelled by the desire to seek out the most vulnerable among the boys, he’d help start the SOB club (Save our Brothers), which had made us smile each time we referred to the club title. Somehow, Khalid had been born with an innate sense that he could best survive his own hardships by helping others.
“We have to be a light,” he says. “We must always, always be a light.”
I smile at how earnest he is. “So, what is your idea, Khalid?” I ask.
“My idea is kijana kitambue.” He grabs a pen and writes the Swahili phrase out for me. Kijana kitambue. “It means, you must know yourself!” He repeats it. “You must KNOW yourself. In my life, I come through worse. I cross through very worse. You must ask yourself, what have I come through? It makes me better. I look forward. I determine my future. I MUST BE my future.”
He tells me how he and his grandmother dreamed he could go to school but knew it would be impossible. “She never in her life had even 500 shillings [$5 USD]. But we pray. We say God, God is with us. We find a way. Then I hear of Kenya Keys. I apply. I get the news; I am to be a student of Kenya Keys! My grandmother says, ‘It is a miracle! It is a miracle!’ ‘I will be a light,’ I say. Kijana kitambue. I will be a light! I am very keen that I will never be a burden. I will be a light!”
“My grandmother is Christian, I am Muslim. Before my mother died, she was Muslim. She gave me a Muslim name. But my grandmother and I say it does not matter. She goes to church. I go to mosque. It leads us all to the same place – a moral life.” His hands gesture upward, showing me the highways in the sky. “You know, Mama Rinda, it is like we are all in different cars, but we are driving to the same destination, where God waits.”
“Khalid, where do you think you would be without Kenya Keys?”
He pauses. Stares at me.
“Without Kenya Keys, there would be no Khalid! There would BE NO KHALID,” he emphasizes.
We look at each other, our eyes pooling with tears. How often do I repeat the tagline of Kenya Keys – unlocking potential? The frequency of its use can make me numb to its meaning. But Khalid embodies that phrase. The fact that poverty can erase a person; leave them a hollow core of what they might have been. But education, the bright opportunity of education, can allow them to be what they were created to be.
I am glad there is a Khalid. Kijana kitambue and flourish.
Thank you for supporting Kenya Keys, Khalid, and students like him. It is an honor and a joy for us to do this work, and we are so grateful to have you with us. Watch for good news about our Giving Tuesday fundraiser coming up, and we wish you the wisdom and joy of Kijana kitambue.
Stephen, Rinda, Khalid, and Brent