At 10 a.m., the road stretched out dusty and hot.
She sat in the heat of the African sun and watched him walk to school with the tuition his mother had managed to scrounge together. It wasn’t enough; it was all the money they had to spend on clothes and other necessities. The little boy’s khaki shorts were so worn the back was riddled with holes.
“He was really happy, and he talked to me about being excited to go back to school,” said Rose Okeyo ’13. “That really touched me, and I was like in the future, when I get a chance, God willing, I would like to help such kids. He had a passion for learning, but his circumstances weren’t good.”
Okeyo met the boy when she was 18 years old, and her family gave the boy another pair of pants.
Okeyo didn’t forget the little boy. In 2014, when Okeyo was attending Hillsdale College, she founded Tujelimu Charity to help the students attending Wang’arot Secondary School in the Rarieda District of Kenya.
Okeyo was able to attend Hillsdale because donors and other students helped her, and she wanted to give back to the community and prove to other Kenyan children that they too could earn a better future.
“For me, what really inspired me to work hard and come to America was the people who came to our school and talked to us,” Okeyo said. “I was someone who couldn’t afford to get an education in America. But I made it, I got a scholarship to Hilldale and worked hard and earned it.”
At Hillsdale, she befriended Samantha Gobba ‘13, and as the two met to study for their math class, they began to talk about Kenya instead. During their junior year, they partnered with the International Club to host a Kenyan dinner that raised over $1,300 and sent 226 textbooks to Wang’arot Secondary School before.
“She shared her heart for students back home in Kenya who are good at school and need to be in school but who can’t be because of finances or the lack of resources,” Gobba said. “So I jumped on board with her, and we started Tujelimu.”
While they were still in college, they began using Tujelimu to sponsor four students through secondary school, helping an orphan boy pay his tuition and a widow put her child through school. All of them have since graduated and started their own careers or continued their studies at universities.
When Okeyo phoned a girl they sponsored, she cried. As one of eight children, the girl wouldn’t have been able to afford to continue her education without Tujelimu’s help, Okeyo said.
“She has never met me or seen me in her life, but she cried when I called her to talk,” Okeyo said. “She was so humbled that somebody who didn’t know her took it upon themselves to support her through her education when her parents were really struggling. And now she is making a life for herself.”
Both Okeyo and Gobba have established separate careers: Okeyo is studying networking technology and IT service at Durham Tech, while Gobba is studying to be a teacher and raising two boys in California. But Okeyo and Gobba still hope to get a 501(c)(3) certification, which would establish Tujelimu as a tax-deductible nonprofit.
“Right now it’s slower than when we first started out. We’re both busy, we both have lives to take care of,” Gobba said. “But there are some things we would like to see happen. We really want to start a mentorship group with older students mentoring younger students and helping them with homework and learning.”
With the help of Hillsdale’s International Club, Tujelimu will be able to buy more textbooks for the students. The International Club hosted a fundraising dinner and an art auction on Sept. 13, where they collected $800 for Tujelimu.
“I’m really happy with the outcome … We had been planning this since last semester, so we’re really glad we finally did it,” said Nour Ben Hmieida, senior and president of the International Club. “$800 is nothing for us here, but for them, it really helps.”
At the dinner, junior Ritah Ogayo spoke about the children in rural Kenya who cannot afford decent clothing, educational materials, or the time to study. That need hit home for Hmieida.
“When I came here from Libya, I didn’t think I could afford to go to college because there were a lot of obstacles,” Hmieida said. “And I’m just really passionate about it. I want to help give other kids the opportunity to learn and be able to work.”
Okeyo has yet to determine how many textbooks she will be able to purchase for the students, but both Okeyo and Gobba said they were grateful to the club for donating to Tujelimu.
“If you work hard you can do anything and go anywhere — if somebody sees that effort and is willing to help you,” Okeyo said. “And that’s what I am trying to do: There are bright students at home in Wang’arot but they need to be helped to see their potential.”