A small boy was born into a large family in the Kenyan
countryside. The family had little money and the boy was frequently sent home
by the local headmaster because of his unpaid school fees. A happy, stubborn
child, every time he was sent home, he would return to class determined to
continue his studies.
A teacher called George noticing his persistence, decided to
help him find a way around the problem and offered for the boy to live at his
residence. Since George’s residence was on school premises, this meant that
even when the boy was sent home, he could remain at the school compound and
attend the after-school catch up classes to continue his education.
At the same time, an American volunteer called Laura who was
working at the school as a maths teacher noticed the boy was struggling with
maths. ‘Mathematics doesn’t make sense to me so I don’t see why I should waste
my time on it’ he said. She patiently began to explain it to him after class
and offered that if he ever had any question or needed any help he could ask
her. So, willing to give it a try the boy went to her for help with his
On her final day before leaving the school Laura took the boy
aside and told him she had paid his school fees for the next full year. He was
perplexed thinking ’but I am not the best student?’ He said ‘I have nothing to
give you to thank you. The only thing I can do is promise that I will pass my
exams’. ‘That’s good enough’ she answered.
So the boy worked and the following year did well in his exams.
He kept in touch with Laura informing her of his progress by letter. By now he
was in his final year of school and hoping to apply to university but he fell
into arrears with his school fees and got sent home again, one month before
registration for University. “I knew that if I missed the registration I would
have to wait a whole year before I could apply again. I was so disappointed. At
1.30pm my father came home. He had been to the town hall. There was a letter
from Laura which was strange because normally I would wait two or three months
to hear from her. So I opened the letter and inside there was a cheque for a
full year’s fees and some surplus. I went back to school that very afternoon
and gave the cheque to my headmaster.”
“I registered and I took the exams. At that time there were
public universities which you could attend if you met the required standard in
the examinations. I was the first from my school to pass the exams to go to
“From that I learned generosity. Since then I have always been
generous. One time I thought ‘let me give someone the gift of shoes’. I gave
shoes to a co-worker and he asked ‘why are you giving me shoes’? I said ‘but if
people had not been kind to me here would I be?’
After leaving university he got a job working for the UN
advising the Kenyan government and when I met him was working for an NGO on a health programme
which has helped provide healthcare to hundreds of the poor women in IDP camps.
IDP camps are home to people who have been displaced from their homes by war or
conflict. Often they have had to flee their homes with as many belongings as
they can carry. They are
frequently among the poorest people in any population. “For me, to be able help
the poorest people and see results is a joy” he says. “Now I pay for several
children to go to school and I hope to set up a foundation one day. No child
should be unable to go to school because of fees, it pains me. Sometimes I
stretch myself but if I can wear a suit it’s good enough. I had nothing. You
don’t help people for yourself but to help them help themselves”.
Finally he said, “our past does not define us. It informs who we
are but it does not define who we can become”. I asked if he ever kept in touch
with Laura and he said yes. But he has never told her the full extent of how
many women have benefitted from this programme, benefitted from her paying for
him to go to school.
Sometimes we do generous things and we don’t see the results.
That’s ok, do it anyway and trust the result. I share this story because there
are so many people I have never properly thanked. Teachers, friends, relatives,
parents of friends, strangers and strangers whose language I don’t even speak.
All of whom have put me where I am today. The little I try to do is to goes
some way goes towards paying back the huge amount of kindness that has been
invested in me.
And since I can’t tell all the people who helped put me here and
make this happen “thank you” I wanted to share this story as a reminder that
kindness is never lost. It multiplies in ways we can never imagine and sometimes
never see. As my friend says “It takes a big heart to do small things”.
So for all of you, for the hugs, the kindness, the cups of tea,
the laughter or the inspiration you have given me, thank you. In the words of
Thich Nat Hanh “I am who I am because you are who you are.