Written by Samantha Caras of Aga Khan Academies
Felix Oyoo and Jackson Ltorisha both come from humble backgrounds: Felix, from the Kibera slums, where he was raised by his uncle in a household that survived on less than $5/ day and Jackson, from a family of seven, raised by a single, hard-working, mother. From a young age, it was clear that they were both destined for great things, which was validated when they were among the top students in their county’s in the national KCSE exams. However, intelligence and drive are not always enough. When stuck in a cycle of poverty, you need more – you need opportunity.
This is where HALI comes in, and where Jackson and Felix’s stories change. Both of them were selected to be a part of Equity Group Foundation (EGF) initiatives, Felix to the “Wings to Fly” program and Jackson to the “Equity Leaders Program”. Before Equity Group Foundation provided these opportunities, finishing high school seemed a distant possibility, and achieving a university education an ever further one. While reflecting on his experience, Felix writes, “Looking back to about 10 years ago, the program changed my life completely. My entry into this program was a stepping stone into endless possibilities that were unimaginable. I must say that I wouldn’t be who I am today if it were not for the Wings To Fly Program.” After the mentorship and support they received, both went on to receive MasterCard Foundation scholarships to pursue higher education.
HALI organizations send students to universities near and far, but regardless of the geographical distance, there is always an emphasis on Africa. Member organizations vary in their policies, with some requiring that students return to the continent after graduation, and others, like the Aga Khan Academy, that have no official policy on returning home, but encourage and nurture home-grown ethical leaders with the aim of uplifting communities. Jackson and Felix are two HALI students who both stayed on the continent and returned to their home country; Jackson’s MasterCard scholarship was at the University of Pretoria in South Africa, while Felix’s was at Ashesi University in Ghana. MasterCard Foundation and Ashesi University have both been HALI Partner Organizations, further examples of how access to opportunities can lead to success. Together, these two Kenyan men have lived and learned in East, West, and Southern Africa, and while they will likely pursue graduate studies abroad later, their knowledge of and passion for enacting change here is an example of how essential these HALI African leaders are in ensuring that the development of the continent is community-led and sustainable.
So, where are Jackson and Felix now, and what do they plan to do next? Both of them have graduated from university and are partaking in a two-year Fellowship back in their home country, Kenya, at The Aga Khan Academy Mombasa, another HALI member organization. As the University Counsellor and HALI Access Network representative for the Academy, I have had the opportunity to work closely with them both. Felix, a Management Information Systems graduate, has helped with our school calendar and event management. Meanwhile, Jackson has been working closely with our own HALI students, acting as a mentor and guide while they embark on their own “HALI Journey”. Both of them, as part of their Fellowship, are also working in our service-learning program which requires them to nourish partnerships between our organization and local, under-served, schools in the region. Specifically, Felix coordinates service projects with Port Reitz, a school for disabled youth in Mombasa, and Jackson manages a dual-language literacy program that brings together students from socio-economically diverse backgrounds to write and illustrate a series of books each year that stay in the local library.
Finally, I asked both Jackson and Felix a series of questions about their HALI experiences, what HALI means to them, and why they have chosen to come home to work in this field. Their answers reminded me of why HALI organizations exist, and why we do the work that we do. We advise, we support, we connect, we provide opportunities, but ultimately, I see all of us as just catalysts, inciting change through the students we work with. They are the ones who will change their countries, this continent, and the role of Africa in the world. And so, I will leave you with their words, instead of my own:
Jackson (right of photo):
“HALI to me is a bridge that connects high school leavers who are deserving to good universities, a gap that they would not have been able to cross themselves due to financial constraints. I am now working for AKAM, another HALI organization, a thrill for me because I see it as an opportunity to give back to HALI to which I owe my successes to so far.I do hope to pursue a graduate degree in the near future, preferably in education, which is part of what informed my decision to join the Aga Khan Academy Mombasa. To my students: I hope they would make the most of the resources and facilities they have to better themselves. Many equally deserving students their age do not have these opportunities. Two things I can say I have learned from being a HALI student are humility and defining success my own way. MasterCard Foundation was particularly good at this through its community engagement policy which forced me to step out of my comfort zone.”
Felix (left of photo):
“From my personal experience in more than three HALI organizations, I believe HALI is an ideological embodiment of equality. HALI harnesses the potential of the financially disadvantaged, empowering them into a new future using education as fuel. It is much more like a collective action in transforming a society and giving it a new look that transcends our differences. HALI organization have influenced my life in a big way. While at Ashesi University I was prepared to be ethical and entrepreneurial scholar and challenged to think differently. The Ashesi Experience helped me gain a new lens on how to look at problems affecting the African continent. MasterCard Foundation sponsored the whole of my Ashesi Experience, my higher education journey would not have been so incredible and worthwhile without MasterCard Foundation. Equity Group Foundation introduced me into new arenas that I had never imagined before. The organization has helped create networks and meaningful experiences with like-minded individuals. It is through EGF that I got to learn about the opportunities available at MasterCard Foundation and Ashesi University. Both Ashesi University and the Aga Khan Academies offer Service Learning as an experiential education that enables students to understand the root problems facing communities. I use my prior experience on Ashesi’s service learning and design thinking process to help students at Aga Khan Academy Mombasa shape their thinking. Now, I work with my Aga Khan Academy students to help them find meaning in their projects, which then gives me a sense of belonging.”