We first met Kizito when he was very small. He was part of our first early childhood classes when we were in our mud buildings on the smaller property. Kizito stole our hearts with his sparkling, joyful eyes and his sweet smile. He worked hard in class and soon was the top student in the school. Kizito would tell anyone and everyone that when he grew up, he wanted to be the president of Kenya.
Kizito continued to amaze us with his work ethic and his intelligence, and when he scored at the top of our county on his eighth grade exams, we were so proud of him. We were even more proud when he was accepted into a prestigious boarding school in Nairobi for ninth grade. After a year in Nairobi, we were proud when Kizito said he appreciated the opportunity, but he felt the best place for him was at home with his Heritage family. He missed his school, his friends, and the teachers and leaders he’d come to consider such an essential part of his life.
Since Kizito has returned and has joined our tenth grade, he’s been challenged in his classes and continues to work hard to reclaim his top spot. He’s also hopeful to help start a drama and music group at the high school level next year since he enjoyed participating in the group so much in primary school.
Kizito still hopes to become president of Kenya one day—he even has a plan for how he’ll achieve it. He’s working hard in class now to be eligible for a scholarship so he can attend University. After University, he’ll return to Makutano and run for council. After council, he’ll seek a county representative position to gain the skills and qualifications he needs, and then he’ll continue to work his way up the government ladder.
We’re so proud of the young man Kizito has become and look to be casting our vote for him as president sooner than we can imagine!
Isaiah is one of our outstanding high school students. He was named head boy this year, and he takes his role seriously. He helps the teachers and students in whatever way he can and continues to display excellent leadership and scholarship abilities.
Isaiah’s journey to Heritage was not an easy one, but you won’t hear him complain. He has accepted each part of his path as it has come, and he’s consistently made big choices to stay on the path he’s set for himself. As one of nine children, Isaiah has had to work hard for everything. During primary school, his father paid his school fees, but he had high expectations placed on him. Many of his siblings downplayed the importance of school, even talking their sister into leaving school at a young age. After his parents divorced, Isaiah’s father remarried and Isaiah lived with them for a time. Isaiah’s stepmother was unkind and mistreated him. The family struggled to meet expenses, and Isaiah was given an ultimatum: his father would either purchase a new school uniform for Isaiah to attend school, or Isaiah could have food—not both. Only in fifth grade, Isaiah chose the school uniform. After three days at school with no food, Isaiah’s stomach made it clear what choice he would have to make, and he went home. He was devastated.
But Isaiah’s mother worked at Heritage, and when Isaiah told his mother what happened, she brought him home with her and directly to the school. After presenting his report cards and completing an interview, Isaiah became a student at Heritage Primary School. Thanks to our staff, students, and Isaiah’s sponsor, Heritage has provided a safe haven for him. But it has also presented challenges to him. He was the top student in his public school, but at Heritage, he found he would have to really work hard to maintain that top spot. He had to learn how to speak, read, and write in English among other grade-level expectations he found at Heritage. While he’s not at the top of the class, Isaiah is proud that he is now in the top ten. He has high goals for himself: first, he’ll be the top of his class in high school, then he’ll attend university, and then he’ll become a doctor. His ultimate goal is to come back to Makutano and support and treat them. He just wants to be of help to a place that has helped him so much.
Isaiah says there are several things that make him most happy in life: being at Heritage, working toward his dreams, helping his village, and helping his brothers who did not finish school. His motivation is completely self-driven, and he works so hard to do well in school because HE expects that of himself.
We are so proud of how far Isaiah has come and how far we know he will go!
Today’s spotlight is on Sara Sakwa.
Sara Sakwa is a special member of our staff at Heritage. After her husband died several years ago, Sara found herself challenged. Her husband’s family made her life difficult, and providing for her children was hard when she was only able to find casual labor work. But all that began to change, she says, when she met Davis, the director, and he invited her to join the sewing group at Grace House. She kept going to the group more for the fellowship and support than the sewing. She found such comfort and hope in the women she met there. If it weren’t for this group, Sara is convinced that she would not be alive. They encouraged her to keep pressing forward, even in the face of difficulty. The group also helped bring her closer to God. Without God, she says her life would have been unbearable.
Not long after she joined our women’s group, she found a job at Heritage Academy as a cook, and she’s been with us since.
She said that since she joined the Heritage staff, her life has improved greatly. She feels at ease, and many of her problems have disappeared. She has a new home, which gives her a sense of security for the future.
Her five children all attend Heritage, and sponsorship means the challenge of providing for her children’s education has been alleviated. As she speaks about sponsorship, Sara gets emotional. She said that sponsorship means everything to her because it means her children will have more opportunity in life. She says she’d like to see her children work hard, be good, open doors for themselves, and have the courage to walk through those doors. She hopes for a brighter future for each of them.
Sara is so grateful for Village Project Africa and the opportunities the programs have provided for her and her children. She’s grateful for the support and love she’s received from Davis, Margaret, and so many others on staff at Heritage. But, most of all, she’s grateful to God for all He’s done in her life. She hopes God will continue to be with her as she walks into the next chapters of her life, whatever they may be.
As we come to the close of each year, we take time to reflect on what the last year meant to us. We take stock of what we’ve lost and what we’ve gained, the pain and the joy we experienced over a twelve-month period that shaped us and formed us. We celebrate the growth we witnessed and the love that we shared. Through it all, we recognize God’s hand and the provisions He made. Faith, hope, and love were our constants in 2017.
Since Village Project Africa began, faith has been a driver in all that we do. Our prayer has always been that God would guide our work and give us the faith and strength to follow His plan for us.
When we started Heritage Academy, we began with faith that God would provide for the children we served, and He has. A record number of students in our school were sponsored in 2017. And as new students join both the primary and high schools, we have faith that this trend will continue. We recently admitted 10 new students to the high school: all received excellent scores on their eighth grade national exam, but would have been forced to leave school were it not for the opportunities presented at Heritage Academy through sponsorship. Many are the first in their families to attend high school. Each time we add a new student, we do so on the faith that a sponsor will step forward.
We also have faith that the teachers that are led to teach at our school will support and nurture the students in our school to help them reach high and achieve their dreams. We’ve been blessed to have a team of teachers assemble at our school who have become a stable part of our school. All but one teacher returned for the new school year, a very unusual rate for a rural school like ours. And these teachers are making huge strides with our students. Our school is ranked one of the highest in the region for performance, and three of our students earned a score over 400 on the national exam last year. This is a huge achievement considering the challenges our students have faced and had to overcome.
We have so much hope for the future as we see the commitment and dedication of our teachers and watch our students excel and grow.
All of this is thanks, in large part, to the terrific leadership we continue to have at both the primary and high schools. The new principal at the high school has been recognized as one of the top principals in the country. When we interviewed him, he wanted to pray about accepting the job. A few days later, he contacted Davis and said, “I want to be a part of your dream.” He has already made such a difference since he joined the team, and we are hopeful as we look forward to what this leadership will do in the year to come.
Our hope for our students is that they will continue to grow and recognize their value, talents, and callings. In 2017, we had several opportunities for our students to explore who they are and who they hope to become. One of these opportunities was a GLOW (Girls Leading Our World) camp. Our girls had the opportunity to grow their confidence, think beyond traditional gender roles, and find encouragement to be leaders in the community. There was so much laughter and fun, and we are grateful our girls were able to participate in such an empowering experience.
We continue to have hope for the future of education in Kenya and the strides our kids can continue to make with well-prepared teachers who have a passion for their success. Teachers of Promise, founded by Dr. Lynn Staley, sponsors 10 young women to attend the Heritage International Early Childhood Development Education Teacher’s College at both the certificate and diploma levels for college. Students come from all over Kenya, but also from right here in Makutano, to receive top-quality education to prepare to enter the classroom. College is out of reach for most villagers, so our hope is that we can continue to add college sponsors and make a college education a possibility for more students.
Love changing lives is not just a motto or tag line, it is a statement of what we see every day of the year. We see examples of God’s immeasurable love all around us as we walk through our classrooms, watch our kids skip to the cafeteria for lunch each day, hear the joyful voices of our students as they master new concepts and share their knowledge with others.
Love was an ever present part of our 2017. We saw it in Peter, an eleventh-grader who would have been forced to drop out of school were it not for his sponsor. Peter stays behind during school vacations to care for the pigs and acre of land we have set aside for farming and greenhouses, passing the love from his sponsor forward.
We saw love in a family reunited after the mother found a job at Heritage Academy. When her husband died, Brenda had to send some of her children to live with other relatives because she did not have the means to support them, and it broke her heart. With a steady job, she is finally able to better provide for her children. And we saw love in the way that so many of our friends and partners stepped in to support us, answering needs we may or may not have recognized. Each one of you was generous in your prayers, in your support, and in your giving. Because of you, we are able to meet the needs of the people of Makutano and the surrounding area more than ever before. All these efforts are building a community that will continue to grow and sustain long into the future. The impact of your love will continue to reverberate and ripple here.
We look ahead to 2018 filled with more faith, hope, and love and a dedication to continue to run the race set before us. We know that love will continue to change lives in so many ways in 2018 because of you and all our supporters and volunteers. In you, we see that love never fails. Thank you.
Today’s spotlight is on Brian Kavogi.
Brian came to our school in 2013. When his mother remarried and moved away, Brian was left behind to live with his uncle, an experience not uncommon for children whose mothers remarry. Not long after she left, Brian’s mother died, leaving him a total orphan.
There was never enough money for food, much less school fees in his uncle’s house, and Brian found himself hungry in two ways: for food and for opportunity. A chance encounter with Director Davis Otieno Reuben’s mother opened just the sort of opportunity Brian was seeking to feed his hunger in both ways: she brought him to Davis, and Brian immediately found a home at Heritage Academy.
Brian was placed in the boy’s dorm and was introduced to the music program at Heritage when the choir director, Titus, singled him out and introduced him to singing. Brian had never performed before, but he had heart, passion, and rhythm. After much practice and hard work, Brian has become one of the lead singers, and he hopes to continue singing, dancing, and playing the drum as he gets older.
At Heritage, Brian has flourished. He says that he is learning well and that all his needs are being met. He gives credit to his sponsor and to God for providing the means for him to work toward becoming the man he hopes to be. He is grateful, and so are we, for how far he has come and all that he has and will continue to do.