A human rights attorney from Kenya provided a sobering perspective to a group of fifth-graders at Varnett's East campus Thursday.
Ms. Dorothy Ombajo urged the nearly 40 students to take advantage of their educational opportunities at Varnett because they are far greater than those offered in her native country.
“Students in this country are very lucky,” Ms. Ombajo said. “You have an opportunity to make the best out of your life."
Ms. Ombajo is the Kenya Country Director for the Pangea Network, an international non-profit dedicated to empowering motivated individuals in Kenya and the United States. The organization works to share the knowledge, skills and support to help people achieve their dreams and make positive life-changing contributions in the community where they live.
Ms. Krystal Williams, the fifth-grade social studies teacher, invited Ms. Ombajo and Ms. Nicole Minor, the network’s founder and executive director, to the campus after spending some time working at the organization earlier this year. She had her students study the Pangea Network's website before the guests arrived.
In making the comparison to her own country, Ms. Ombajo cited cases in Kenya where up to 200 students are in one class with a single teacher. Do the students there have free transportation? Empathically no, she declared. “There are no school buses,” she said. “You walk to school. And with 200 students, you have to get in front so you can get closer to the teacher.” At Varnett, she added, the students have the advantage of receiving personalized attention and also enjoy a much stronger family unit than is seen in Kenya.
Ms. Ombajo also noted that Varnett students in particular, and U.S students in general, have far greater access to technology than can even be imaged in her African country.
“Different people go through different challenges,” she told the students “You are fortunate. Here you have personalized attention. Make the best of your life.”
Speaking in general terms, Ms. Minor said: "Everybody in this room has the ability to be a change maker.”
After addressing the students for about 30 minutes, Ms. Ombajo took several questions about her personal experiences as well as the lifestyle of Kenyans. For example, she said she studied for nine years in India before returning home to practice law. Earlier in the discussion, students were asked to pinpoint Kenya on a map and expressed amazement when Ms. Ombajo said it took her two days to arrive in Houston. (More than 8,300 miles separates Houston and Nairobi, Kenya’s capital.)
A small group of fifth graders presented Ms. Ombajo a signed poster of thanks after her speech. Several rushed to hug her before she posed for pictures with smiling Varnett staff members.