Published: 11:01, February 21, 2023 | Updated: 11:01, February 21, 2023
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China helps Kenyan kids realize academic dreams
By ​Edith Mutethya in Nairobi

Students at the MCEDO Beijing School in Nairobi, Kenya, pose for a group photo on Feb 14. Chinese enterprises have helped students at the school by renovating classrooms and donating food. (PHOTO / XINHUA)

Hagai Otieno, born and brought up in Mathare, the second-largest slum in Kenya's capital, Nairobi, was worried that he would have to drop out of school like his elder siblings.

Their father, a casual laborer and the sole breadwinner, could barely put food on the table, let alone afford tuition fees for his children.

Today, Otieno dares to dream big. He finished high school last year and will enroll in a university in China in September to major in electrical engineering, thanks to a scholarship offered by the Chinese government through the embassy in Kenya.

He is grateful to the Chinese community and the Kenya China Economic and Trade Association, or KCETA, for their unwavering support for the Mathare Community Education and Development Organization Beijing School, where he studied.

Since the school was set up in 2007, with assistance from the Chinese embassy in Kenya, the association has been regularly donating food, stationery and furniture, and renovating classrooms whenever necessary.

Currently, the MCEDO Beijing School has a primary section with 370 students and a secondary one with 156, compared with only 200 students when it was founded.

More than 1,500 children, all of them from the slums, have completed their high school studies. Many of them are pursuing college degrees or have started working to support their families, according to Benedict Kiage, director of the school.

"I am sincerely grateful to the Chinese embassy and the KCETA for making my journey through school smooth," Otieno said. "There were times when my parents had to choose between buying food and books. My dad often felt sending us to school was a burden. MCEDO made learning fun."

Otieno will join either Beijing University of Technology or Changchun University of Science and Technology in Northeast China's Jilin province, later this year. Two of his former classmates will also benefit from the Chinese government's scholarship program, he added.

Fredrick Sango, who teaches mathematics and chemistry at the MCEDO school, said the Chinese embassy and the KCETA had ensured that underprivileged children in Mathare had unhindered access to basic education.

"Due to continuous support from the Chinese community, the school has been able to improve academically, and we now churn out well-rounded individuals in terms of academics, character and extracurricular activities."

Sango, who has been teaching in the school for five years, said the KCETA has been donating enough food to cover the daily breakfast and lunch needs of students. He said that many families in the community are unable to afford three meals a day and, hence, the food program is attracting more students to the school.

Several children told China Daily that they are served so much food at school that they often pack some for their parents and siblings back home.

Last week, Chinese enterprises donated food worth $107,300 to the school, and officially handed over classrooms that were renovated.

Zhang Yijun, minister counselor at the Chinese embassy in Kenya, said the food program and renovated classrooms will motivate students to study harder.

School director Kiage thanked the Chinese embassy and the KCETA for their continued support. "The classrooms were in bad shape, with leaking roofs, peeling paint on walls and holes on the floors. When we sought your assistance, you promptly responded and gave the school a new lease of life," he said.