Written by Joshua Omweno & Hannah Bain
The Story of Joshua Omweno
There is no limit to the impact that education can have on a life, and Joshua Omweno’s path is proof of that. A bright kid with a passion for service, Joshua received one of Carolina for Kibera’s (CFK) Angaza scholarships in 2011. Six years later, after completing secondary school and enrolling in university, Joshua began leading the very same program that had given him the opportunity to pursue higher education.
Ever since he can remember, Joshua has had a passion for service. After he graduated from high school in 2014, he decided to volunteer with the Angaza program. A dedicated volunteer, he was quickly offered an intern position, which translated into a program assistant position and, finally, a program officer position in 2017.
“I have always been passionate about serving my community and giving back to them,” Joshua said. “I really felt indebted from the support that I received through CFK, and I fit in right away.”
While working with CFK and eventually leading the Angaza Scholarship Program, Joshua also pursued his undergraduate degree at the Technical University of Kenya. Though balancing the demands of his studies and his job has been challenging, Joshua “has no regrets” about how he has spent his time during the last six years.
“The great thing about CFK is that they have always been flexible with my schedule,” Joshua said. “In turn, I have always been able to meet my deliverables. It grows to the point where you don’t feel like it’s a job anymore; it’s part of you. I have a lot of motivation waking up every day knowing that I am serving people in need. It always gives me joy to know that I am touching other’s lives.”
Impacting Lives Through Education
One of the many lives that Joshua and the Angaza program have touched was a scholarship recipient named Mary. She missed the original application deadline in 2016, but, recognizing her drive and potential, the program extended the application window, allowing her to apply and receive an interview. She was eventually recruited into the program and completed secondary school with high marks, but the program’s support did not stop there.
Joshua and the Angaza program continued to guide Mary as she applied for funding opportunities for college. They connected her to another scholarship provider supporting students enrolled in medical-related courses at the university level, and, with the program’s support, Mary received full funding for her college studies. Just last year, she graduated and began looking to start her career. She stays in touch through the Angaza Alumni program to this day.
“I am extremely satisfied seeing the success that Mary has achieved,” Joshua said. “This was a girl from a humble family who, without our intervention, may not have had the support needed to complete high school and attend college. I believe she is the only one in her family who has successfully graduated from college, and seeing her succeed in her academics and become a light within her family gives me so much joy.”
A Holistic Approach to Educational Programming
Though it is easy to focus on the students themselves when developing and implementing education programs, it is important to remember that parents play essential roles as well. They often pay their children’s school fees, provide emotional support, ensure that their children attend school, and are responsible for monitoring their children’s progress. Without including parents, education programs cannot be truly holistic or achieve their highest potential impacts. Engaging parents in student learning and progress has been especially challenging for the Angaza program, but Joshua and his team recently developed a strategy to improve communication with parents to maintain CFK’s holistic approach to programming.
“The program initiated a parents’ welfare, designed to promote the physical and material well-being of the parents of our beneficiaries,” Joshua said. “It provides small financial workshops in coordination with our Household and Economic Strengthening (HES) program to ensure that families have what they need to do things like buy necessary items and pay for student transportation to school. It also supports parents in starting or growing their own businesses. This has made them more active in our programs and led to them taking more responsibility for their children’s education and progress.”
Joshua’s experience, both as a beneficiary and as a staff member of CFK, has shaped how he approaches problems and develops solutions.
“The participatory development approach of CFK is unique,” Joshua said. “Everyone feels a part of the entire process, and community members get to drive the solutions to the problems they live with every day.”
Ensuring Continued Learning During COVID-19
In addition to shaping the Angaza program’s holistic approach, Joshua has been on the frontlines of CFK’s COVID-19 response. There, he has adapted normal operations to ensure that all students, not just scholarship recipients, stay engaged in learning.
“Our approach has usually been reaching out directly and meeting beneficiaries, and that has been quite challenging to do since mid-March because of all of the restrictions related to the pandemic,” Joshua said. “We crafted a temporary way of bridging this gap by providing revision materials to our students to facilitate their home learning. Some of our Angaza Alumni have also led random spot checks to ensure that students are handling the new learning materials well, and when students have questions, we call parents and respond to texts. We also created WhatsApp groups to provide support.”
In addition to distributing more than 3,000 revision packet to 600 students, Angaza staff have also been supporting WaSH initiatives in student households, making liquid soap and distributing one liter of it to each student home every month. The program has distributed more than 500 liters of liquid soap to households in the community.
While Joshua has seen students make “tremendous progress” with the revision materials, facilitating at-home learning during the pandemic has also presented challenges. For example, monitoring and evaluation efforts, which are critical in all of CFK’s programs, are limited to the students who are expressing interest and actively engaging with the Angaza staff.
Over the next few months, Joshua hopes to scale-up Angaza’s response projects and establish open sessions with students. These sessions will “break the monotony of being at home” and allow students to interact with each other safely, share experiences, and engage in activities outside of academics.
“During this difficult time, we want to make sure that students are continuing to develop character skills and grow holistically,” Joshua said.
Looking Beyond Kibera
Looking beyond the COVID-19 pandemic, Joshua is eager to be part of CFK’s plans to expand and extend its support outside of Kibera. He believes that extending mentorship and career guidance services will be critical as the organization grows.
“We have had ambitious program plans in the past and have always met our targets,” Joshua said. “For example, we aimed to increase the number of students completing high school and transitioning to university, and this has been on the rise ever since. Eighty-three percent of our scholarship recipients from 2019 graduated successfully and are entering university.”
With many years of experience with the Angaza Scholarship Program, first as a beneficiary and now as a leader, Joshua recognizes the importance of education and the unique needs of young people in Kibera.
“We are working with a very important population, and every milestone is important,” Joshua said. “I believe that now we are taking little steps to make the impact of this program even bigger.”
Learn more about the Angaza Scholarship program.