A bridge from remote villages in Kenya to the halls of universities in USA: Stories of Melvin and Vitalis

Photo credit: Bridge Kenya

What you need to know:

  • Bridge Kenya opened its first school in Mukuru Kwa Njenga, Nairobi, in 2009.
  • Today, the organisation runs community schools across 22 of 47 counties, targeting children from underserved communities and ensuring they receive life-changing education.

By Griffin Asigo

The life stories of Melvin Kanaiza and Vitalis Wekesa are like rays of hope cutting through dark clouds. They both faced tough times in childhood, but never gave up on their dreams.

Imagine growing up without a dad and losing a sister; not knowing if you will have enough food or a safe place to live the next day. Such an ordeal can affect the mental health of a child, translating to poor performance at school. Melvin and Vitalis are quite familiar with life’s tribulations.

Melvin was born in Vihiga County where she lived with her grandmother, before moving to Gachie, Kiambu County. Her mother, in preparation for her daughter’s stay, had to find a school where she could continue with her education journey. In her quest, she came across a small school in the heart of Kiambu County known as Bridge Gachie.

Melvin’s first day of school was scary. “When I walked into the class, I was scared because I did not know anyone, but I remember a teacher who warmly welcomed me into the classroom. I quickly made friends and within a short period of time, it felt like home,” she says.

In that little school, Melvin experienced impeccable differences from her former school, where, she says, learning had rarely happened. It was at Bridge that she realised how much potential she had.

When Melvin later sat for her KCPE exams in 2015, she scored 374 marks out of the possible 500. It was a milestone she was proud of, but one question lingered in her mind: What next? Where would she get the school fees to join high school? Her mother barely made enough for their meals.

Melvin had always dreamt of studying abroad, but her dream had felt farfetched to her. However, one sunny morning, scholarship forms were brought to the school. She applied for and weeks later, she received a call informing her that she had won a scholarship to study at St Anne’s Belfield School in Virginia, USA, and her fees would be fully paid.

“Getting a scholarship to study abroad was like a dream come true. When I boarded my first ever flight, I could not believe it.  As a child, I used to tell my mother every time I saw a plane fly by, that I would one day fly with it, and that day had come,” Melvin reminisces.

Fast forward, Melvin performed well in high school and yet again got a scholarship to study at St Lawrence University, in New York. Learning at St Lawrence has been interesting for her so far, and she is excited to pursue her dream course – Economics and Mathematics.

“I love numbers and they help us understand the world. Real-life applications of Mathematics are endless. We are surrounded by numbers, equations and algorithms – especially in this age of data science,” says Melvin.

Joining college is a great deal for Melvin because it has given her an opportunity to explore the world, learn about different cultures, and understanding a world beyond Kenya. 

Vitalis Wekesa

Photo credit: Bridge Kenya

Vitalis Wekesa, who is currently a proud student at the University of Franklin and Marshall College Pennsylvania in the United States, had not had it easy during his childhood either. However, his zeal to create a better life for himself had pushed him beyond limits. 

When the sole provider of a family loses his job, life can quickly throw the children off-balance. This is the story of Vitalis, who hails from Uasin Gishu in Eldoret County. His father, Fredrick Wekesa, lost his job as a security guard, and his mother, Teresa Nyanjala, was a stay-at-home mum at the time.

For an entire year, the family lived from hand to mouth. For Vitalis to watch his mother cry because she did not know where the next meal would come from or how they would attend school, broke his heart. It is at the tender age of 11 that he had to start doing odd jobs to support his family, a decision his family strongly opposed, but going by their circumstances, they had to bear with.

Despite all the challenges he faced at home, Vitalis loved school. He was a pupil at a Bridge School in Uasin Gishu County.

“I looked forward to Mathematics and Science lessons because when my teachers were explaining topics, they used real-life situations, making it easy for us to understand. By using real-life situations, teachers noticed the mistakes we made and corrected us. It is while at Bridge that I moved from an average pupil to scoring over 420 marks in the KCPE exams,” he recalls.

Even though Vitalis had no idea what would become of his life after his primary education, the path to his journey was about to get better when he was informed he had won a scholarship through Bridge, to study at St Anne’s-Belfield School in Virginia, just like Melvin.

Vitalis says life in high school was awesome, and even though he was miles away from his home, the school was a place where he felt welcome. The learning experience he had had at Bridge enabled him to overcame challenges quickly, such as making new friends and being independent.

“High school was great. The teachers were awesome, and they were there for us every day in school and out of school. It wasn’t just about academic work; sports were also a big part of my education,” he says.

Vitalis is currently pursuing Engineering after graduating from high school. He says the course has always been close to his heart. For him, it is a big deal to go to college in America. It takes a lot of work to just get in, and a lot of support from friends and family. 

Studying abroad will open up myriad opportunities for Melvin and Vitalis in the near future. They are both excited about what this could mean for them and their families, and what the future holds for them.

Perhaps, somewhere in Kenya today, a little boy or girl is wondering if they will ever get away from the shackles of poverty, or if they will ever see beyond their counties. But if it was possible for Melvin and Vitalis, then it is possible for any child out there who is willing to put in the work.

About Bridge Kenya

At Bridge Kenya, we believe every child has the right to high-quality education. Our goal is to provide children with a life-changing education – one that gives them a strong foundation and the gateway to their future success.

Bridge Kenya opened its first school in Mukuru Kwa Njenga, Nairobi, in 2009. Today, we run community schools across 22 of 47 counties, targeting children from underserved communities and ensuring they receive life-changing education.

We use a combination of specially selected experts, data, and technology, to standardise and scale every aspect of how we deliver our quality education. These include everything from how and where academies are built; how teachers are selected and trained; and how lessons are delivered and monitored for improvement.

Through innovative technology, learning is digitised, based on the Kenyan national curriculum. Computer-aided applications help to monitor attendance, lesson delivery, and performance. The technology helps all academies become transparent, giving near real-time data on the performance of schools, no matter their location.

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The writer is the Managing Director of Bridge Kenya ([email protected])