I was so excited to head over to the 2nd Equity Bank Annual Education & Leadership Congress today! What an adventure, just getting to the site of the Congress - Kenyatta University, on Thika Road, about a 40 minute drive outside of downtown Nairobi. This AM I took a bus from a part of town that I was unfamiliar with, and then had to switch to a matatu, quite some distance out from the city. Once we arrived at KU's campus gates, I wandered in and checked out a campus map. Wound my way through the grounds, eventually finding the Congress.
Earlier this summer I learned not expect anything in particular, because I've been surprised every time. Things are never exactly the way you think they will be:) But I definitely wasn't expecting a crowd of this size. I walked into an auditorium-like setting with three levels of seating, occupied by probably 1,000 students and some adults. Some students were performing songs on the stage in the middle of the rotunda, when I walked in.
Then Dr. James Mwangi, the CEO of Equity Bank took the podium and talked to the students about why they are here, and how he knows that they are the future leaders of Kenya. He told them that "the greatest reward of leadership is legacy". He used the example of the Kennedy family. Even though JFK passed away many years ago, he still hears about the Kennedy legacy all of the time. He asked how the students to think about how they, as leaders, could leave legacies. He said that "leadership isn't futuristic - it's present." He also discussed Kenya's foundations, and why Kenya has so much potential to be a great nation. He said that great institutions are the foundation of a great nation. Great individuals are needed to run these great institutions. He said that he knows that future leaders of Kenya in 2030 were sitting in this room, and that's why Equity has a program like this. He reminded the students that theory alone will not help - that the students must practice the leadership that can transform the nation. It was a very inspiring and heartfelt speech. I felt privileged to be there.
I spoke with two of the students sitting next to me, and the student sitting directly behind me. Each student attending the Congress was given a gift bag containing a notebook for which they could use to take notes during the speeches, and two inspirational books. The students let me peek at the books. One is "Journey to Academic Success and Beyond" by Paul Bundi Karau, and the other is "Unstoppable: Achieving Excellence in High School and Beyond" by Rosemary Kibui and Timothy Kipchumba. The student sitting behind me, Kumar is a sophomore at KU and was one of Equity's Pre-University Scholars. It was so great to meet her!
The students are staying in the KU dorms and are eating in the cafeteria. During lunch today I sat with a Form 2 secondary student from Turkana, in Northern Kenya - a community suffering from the drought. I asked this student what can be done to improve conditions in Turkana, and she said "education". She told me that she has two sisters, but she is the only one still in school. She and her sisters break rocks down into smaller bits (I've seen East Africans doing this, along the roadsides all over) for use in construction in order to get money for food, and for this student's school fees. She said that very few students receive a secondary school education in Turkana. She was invited to the Congress, even though she is not officially in one of Equity's sponsorship programs, likely partly because, as she told me, she was top girl in her primary school, based on her KCPE score. (KCPE is the exam taken at the end of primary school/8th grade.) I am still mentally encouraging her, even as I write this post.
After lunch I asked around and learned that there are a few different groups of students at the Congress. The secondary school students who are officially sponsored by Equity Bank, UKAid or the MasterCard Foundation, who are in a program called "Wings to Fly", the Pre-University students, top students who are from regions of Kenya where Equity does not have branches and therefore does not have Wings to Fly students, and a few secondary schools who have won music awards this year, and are performing at the Congress, such as the students who were performing when I first walked into the Congress this AM. This week all of the students are sitting together listening to the same presentations, but next week the Pre-University Scholars will hear a different set of lectures from the current Secondary School students.
I also got to meet Anjeli today, who is helping the Pre-University students work on their college applications during the Congress. She's Kenyan, going into her second year at London School of Economics. Looking forward to learning more from her during the Congress!
I left the Congress at about 4pm, to head back to town before the sun sets. Really excited about my first day at the Congress!