August 2nd, 2010
The IPI College Scholars Program (ICSP) has a lot to celebrate this month!
Two of our scholars graduated from Kenya Methodist University (KEMU), both with science teaching degrees. Prisca immediately found a teaching position at a local boys’ school until the end of the school year in December. Within two weeks, Ben was offered a permanent teaching position in Embu, not far from Meru. But on the morning he was to report, he got a call from KEMU, where he was asked to fill a vacancy in the Student Liaison office—a perfect position for Ben and a perfect choice for KEMU.
Ben proved himself a savvy student advocate after he was elected Student Council VP, a position he served during his junior year. During that time he successfully lobbied for improved computer access and, more important, leniency for students who were unable to pay their fees after the 2007 post-election violence. His successful negotiations resulted in students continuing their education who wouldn’t have been able to otherwise.
Faith, who is completing her last course in business at the University of Nairobi, was just awarded a very prestigious, 6-month internship at the Kenyan UN Operations (UNOPS) organization. Those who have interned there have often acquired excellent permanent jobs in business or even at the UN. It was Faith’s internship experience at AeroGrow International, Inc. that was responsible for her landing this very competitive position. Now Faith is commuting to the UN every day.
Our friend Dominic interviewed for a very prestigious internship at the Kenya Medical Research Institute (KEMRI). Unfortunately, he was not awarded the position, but he was certainly competitive. So, we know that something even better will work out for him.
I don’t know if those who haven’t visited Kenya can fully understand what it means for our first two graduates to have landed jobs. Being awarded a permanent position is like winning the lottery. Imagine that during the depth of the Great Depression of the early 1930’s, unemployment was just about 20%, in the hardest hit places. Official unemployment statistics in Kenya are over twice that, 43%. But that doesn’t include “under-employment,” the term that describes people who have part-time or casual work who may only work a few days a month or even in a year. A good guestimate for the combined unemployment and under-employment rate is 70%. Which means that jobs are extremely scarce, and the number of people in line for any that do come available is extremely high. Usually, most employment opportunities are lost to nepotism and tribalism. If you are in a position to hire, you give the job to your cousin or brother or friend, regardless whether they are qualified. In Kenya, loyalty is often privileged over competence.
Dominic tells a pertinent story about applying for a temporary position during this month’s constitutional election in Kenya. His application was far and away the best submitted—he is among the most literate in his community, and he was awarded the job, but it was taken away from him through corruption. Dominic went to the District Officer and threatened to expose the corruption, which was blatant, and he and several others got their positions back. Corruption is common in Kenya; trumping it is rare. The job netted Dominic ksh5,000/- (about $70) that he wouldn’t have had if he hadn’t regained the post. Now he can afford to make improvements on the waste water system of his family’s farm, which wouldn’t have happened otherwise.
In my five years visiting Kenya, I haven’t met one person who got a permanent job, except Karambu, who was awarded a post at the University of Nairobi after completing her doctorate
Getting jobs means that Ben and Prisca will be able to sustain themselves and their families. They will be able to afford food, home improvements (new roofs on their huts, for example), and better schooling for their siblings. When positions like this are awarded to community-minded people, such as Ben and Prisca, their success benefits the community as well.
So far, our first two graduates have jobs and I am absolutely beaming. I am so proud of them—they worked hard to distinguish themselves during their undergraduate years, and they are experiencing the first ripening fruit of their efforts. The fact that Dominic and Faith were both competitive for prestigious internships is also extremely promising.
I didn’t know when we started ICSP whether completing a college degree in Kenya would lead to employment. These jobs promise to change the fortunes of our first two scholars and their families, breaking them out of a hopeless cycle of poverty. Beyond that, I hope we are seeing the earliest tide of what I hope will be a sea-change among the underclass in Meru. If similar success continues with our other scholars, we will have proved that funding college degrees for promising, low-income Kenyans is, indeed, sustainable development. I am thrilled for our students and full of joy and full of hope for Meru!
Gary Lichtenstein, Director
IPI College Scholars Program (ICSP)