Rhinah Ondiso was born in a rural village in Western Kenya and is a living testament to education being a gateway out of poverty. Thanks to the support of the Kijana Educational Empowerment Initiative, a Florida-based nonprofit organization, Ondiso was given the fortune of opportunities to attend high school, university, and graduate school. Today, she lives and works in the greater Boston area, serves on Kijana’s board of directors, and is paying it forward.
Ondiso was born in Vihiga County, where 62% of the population lives below the poverty line. She attended Ebusiloli Secondary School, Kijana Educational Empowerment Initiative’s Flagship School from 2001 to 2005. In 2003, when Ondiso’s mother couldn’t afford secondary school tuition, Kijana Founder and President, Jim Cummings, stepped in to pay for the remainder of her high school education.
“$200 over the course of a year for me was not that much in comparison to the potential gain of having the best students in the school stay at the school–a school that had given me my first teaching experience and to which I was investing a lot of time and effort in building up. I was happy to do it,” remarked Cummings.
Ondiso became the first female from Ebusiloli to score high enough on the Kenya national exam to continue to university. With the help of a government-subsidized program, she began her university studies in 2007 at The University of Nairobi. Ondiso later applied and received a scholarship from Zawadi Africa to study in the United States. Ondiso began attending Arkansas Baptist College in Little Rock, AR, in the fall of 2008. In addition to attaining a bachelor’s degree in Business Administration, she currently holds a Masters in Business Administration from Lynn University in Boca Raton, FL, and a Master of Science in Project Management from Harrisburg University of Science and Technology in Harrisburg, PA. She currently resides in the greater Boston area and works as Talent Program Manager at Global Atlantic Financial Group in Boston.
Over the years as Ondiso continued her undergraduate and graduate studies, she traveled periodically to Florida to assist with Kijana fundraisers and helped with office work and the development of the nonprofit.
“I benefited from Kijana while a student at Ebusiloli. Kijana helped pay for my tuition. When I arrived in the USA in 2008, I partnered with Kijana to spread the word across the country on the vital work the organization is doing in Kenya,” stated Ondiso.
Since June 2020, Ondiso has provided Kijana’s diverse board of directors with a firsthand perspective of the communities Kijana assists. She helps ensure the organization is sensitive to local cultural elements and local needs. She serves as a consultant to Cummings and partners on fundraising campaigns. Her academic training is also beneficial in her board role as a co-treasurer.
Kijana is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization that has served a pivotal role in transforming education in Vihiga County in Western Kenya since 2002. Vihiga County, among the relatively poorer areas of Kenya, suffered from very limited educational resources and relatively low educational outcomes. Potential for advancement to higher education was limited. With hundreds of thousands of dollars of investments, Kijana altered the educational trajectory and raised the expectations of citizens by investing in more than 30 schools countrywide.
Partnerships and funding support from mainly Palm Beach County, FL, and Racine County, WI, community members transformed a few Kenyan schools, like Ondiso’s alma mater Ebusiloli Secondary School, from dilapidated remains to burgeoning institutions. Kijana’s investment and redevelopment of schools in this area spurred over a 1400% increase from the late 1990s to today in students obtaining a high school education in the area and a significant rise in students from the area matriculating into universities.
Outside of her career, today, Ondiso supports her home country and pays it forward to youth in Kenya who are financially impoverished as she once was.
“The work Kijana is doing is changing the community one family at a time. For example, because I was able to succeed, I paid my neighbor’s child’s high school tuition while in college, and he’s now one of the students from Ebusiloli that went to university. Now, not only is my family in a better place but his is as well,” commented Ondiso.
Kijana’s vision, driven by a diverse Board of Directors, including the leadership of both Ondiso and Cummings, continues to enliven the educational experiences of our global youth so that more of the hundreds of millions of young people who need greater and more creative educational opportunities will find them. Kijana is currently in the process of building a modern pre-k through 12th-grade independent school, Kijana Global Innovation School (KGIS), to serve primarily low-to-average-income and highly-talented Kenyan youth and infuse new options in our global educational capacity. KGIS opened its doors in January 2020 with 15 students and one block of administrative offices and classrooms for pre-k through second grades. Today, enrollment is around 160 students and climbing, serving pre-k through seventh-grade classes. KGIS has plans to expand and continue to build classrooms and enroll up to 500 students by 2024 and then graduate its first high school class in 2026.
According to Ondiso, “It is important to understand that education may be the only gateway out of poverty for some children. The poverty index is so high that most families cannot afford to educate their children. A few dollars can change an entire generation. Kijana has a proven track record for supporting students, and schools succeed. It is the best organization to support in this endeavor.”
Cummings added, “I think education is a gateway to human advancement for all people–whether rich or poor. Education is not just about providing people with skills to get good jobs and sustain themselves and their families financially, but it should provide us with a larger perspective and the ability to work with other people and appreciate and respect other people and help us advance as humans.”
Human society suffers as significant human capital is underutilized and unfulfilled by our traditional socio-economic and global educational systems. Kijana’s mission is to advance all of human society through focusing on connecting youth in Kenya and youth and communities in the United States. In addition to allowing some people to ‘escape financial poverty,’ investing in the youth of rural Kenya opens new avenues for untapped talent to enrich all of society.
“Kijana invests creatively and energetically in this underutilized global human capital, improving our collective global well-being. Their expanded opportunity will be the world’s gain as these young people fulfill their academic, social, and creative promise, becoming positive world change-makers–just like Rhinah,” said Cummings.
Kijana Educational Empowerment Initiative promotes and cultivates youth empowerment through educational development, cross-cultural dialogue, and sustainable and environmentally friendly economic growth, among under-served Kenyan school communities and American school communities. For more information or to provide financial support, visit: kijana.org.