Rhodes scholar on a mission to end illiteracy in Kilifi

Rhodes scholar Claudia Kahindi during an interview at Kilimo Primary School on September 28 2019. PHOTO | MAUREEN ONGALA | NATION MEDIA GROUP

What you need to know:

  • Claudia Kahindi, the first female from the coastal region to be enrolled at Kenya Scholar Access Program.
  • She improves and enforces the basic understanding of English through a project dubbed KIU.
  • Ms. Kahindi seeks to build a library in Ganze Constituency to encourage reading culture in pupils from the rural areas.

A 24-year-old scholar from Kilifi Township in Kilifi North Constituency is on a mission to end illiteracy in her former primary school, years after becoming the region's first Rhodes scholar.

Claudia Kahindi was the first woman from the coastal region to be enrolled for the Kenya Scholar Access Program (KenSAP), which saw her admitted at Wesleyan University in Connecticut, US, in 2013.

Whenever she returned for the holidays, she dedicated her time to teaching English and Kiswahili at Kilimo Primary School. 

She improves and enforces the basic understanding of English through a project dubbed KIU, a Swahili word for thirst, meaning the thirst for knowledge.

Kilifi County has been rated among counties with high illiteracy levels. According to the Uwezo Kenya Sixth Learning Assessment Report, eight out of 100 class eight pupils cannot do Standard Twowork.


Ms Kahindi scored an A- in the Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education examinations that she wrote at Moi Girls, Eldoret.

She is currently the 2019 Rhodes scholarship recipient from Kenya, having beaten more than 400 applicants.

In an interview at Kilimo Primary School, she says she is interested in giving back to society and being part of change.

“People always shared their challenges with me. Others were being lured to join terrorist groups and criminal gangs. I decided to apply for grants and start a project that would change the future of students, 10-plus years from now."

After graduating from Wesleyan in May 2018 with a Bachelor's degree in Social Studies, Ms Kahindi got a job as a development Assistant at Negol Outreach, an non-governmental organisation in New York that helps low income earning black students to access colleges. At the organisation, she worked hard to get money for her project.

She is set to join Oxford University to study International Corporate Law.

“They are going to pay for everything, which is amazing. I have always wanted to be a lawyer so this is a major opportunity ... going for law school in the best university in the world,” she says.


Ms Kahindi attributes her achievements and success to support from individuals.

Her journey from primary school was tough - she suffered bullying as well as discouragement and resistance from her parents and other relatives.

She stood firm as she believes children should be allowed to make their own decisions about their future.

Ms Khindi says the biggest challenge for an individual is to overcome hurdles when trying to make informed personal decisions.

As such, she says, people should not be subjected to the social pressure to conform.

“If people can identify that a child has a bright future because of what she feels she wants to do, they should support her. That would help so much. People go through so much right from childhood."

“I realised earlier on that if you don’t assert yourself and speak up for yourself, people are going to disregard and oppress you."


Ms Kahindi's mother Catherine Munyoki says the family was against the idea of her daughter going to America.

“We wanted her to study law at the University of Nairobi, where she had been called. She has wanted to study law since childhood. We ensured she studied and made it clear that she would be in trouble if she did not perform well. This pushed her to work hard,” she says.

Ms Munyoki says that after her daughter on the scholarship, they had no option but to support her.

“We involved our priest in talking to her. We told her to be focused and not to be distracted by life abroad,” she says.


Having worked in the NGO world abroad and in Kenya as a volunteer has discouraged Ms Kahindi from operating one.

She prefers to be a policy maker to serve her people best.

“Donors have an influence even on how you carry out the project, which made me realise that if I want to run an NGO I won’t have independence unless I have money. I want to be in the room where the most important decisions are made."

Ms Kahindi's programme involves friends studying teaching with the goals of working at schools in Kilifi.

Ms. Kahindi wants to build a library in Ganze Constituency to encourage pupils in rural areas to read.