Most of us are very aware of how important, sadly so, it has become to have connections in order to secure a decent job in Africa. In a lot of cases, those without connections graduate from college and are forced to resort to menial jobs. At the same time, those who know people in political authority or bank Managing Directors, etc, graduate and walk into a new job.
Notwithstanding, there are exceptions. There are people who manage to get an education even in the absence of a 529-college savings plan or access to a deep pocket. Some of these people could only afford to go to college because their village members contributed money or their mothers had to sell their belongings, etc. For such people, getting a job is not a mere next step after graduation but a necessary event following graduation. After all, there might still be 2, 3, 4, 5 or so siblings behind them who need to eat and perhaps enjoy the “luxury” of being educated.
Kimeli Naiyomah and Lesego Malatsi are examples of such heros. Below are their stories based on articles published by CNN and the Guardian respectively.
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Kimeli, a member of a Masai tribe, grew up in a small rural town called Enoosaen near the Masai Mara National Reserve. The town had no water, no electricity, no phones and no roads. After accompanying his ailing mother to the hospital as a young boy, Kimeli says he knew he wanted to grow up to heal others like her. He didn’t know such people were called doctors – he just knew he wanted to be one.
Dreaming of being a doctor is ambitious even in America. But in Kimeli’s part of Africa, one could have easily dismissed that dream as impossible. This was especially true in Kimeli’s particular situation. He says he had no father. His grandmother had been murdered. And his mother – his only remaining caretaker – was battling alcoholism.
According to Kimeli, his family (or lack thereof) was so destitute that his Masai tribe didn’t even consider them people – they were sub-human. Moreover, nobody that Kimeli knew from his tribe had gone to high school, let alone college or medical school.
He knew he had to change his situation, so he ran away – to another village where he had heard that there was a school that was taught under a tree. It was a church school and it became his grade school and his home.
When he grew beyond this school-under-a-tree, Kimeli found the nearest high school, which was 9 hours away. So he walked there and told the principal that he had no money, no uniform, no books, no shoes and no family, but he wanted to attend school. And, as Kimeli tells the story, the principal was so amazed by Kimeli’s gumption that he welcomed him to the school.
Kimeli soon realized he probably couldn’t achieve his dream of becoming a doctor if he remained in Kenya. So he started applying for universities in America. He says, “My elders got together to try to raise money to help me achieve my goals.”
The same elders who had once considered Kimeli to be sub-human had done a complete reversal. Kimeli says his people were now were so impressed by what he had achieved that he was not only considered human again, they were invested in helping him achieve his goals. They raised $5,000 for him.
Kimeli ended up enrolling in the University of Oregon, United States and later made it to Stanford University. To read the entire story, please visit http://globalpublicsquare.blogs.cnn.com/2011/09/10/remembering-911-an-unexpected-gift-to-america/?iref=allsearch
Lesego Malatsi, a young South African designer, made his way to London Fashion week all the way from his corrugated-metal roofed home in Soweto, South Africa.
Lesego Malatsi is not a privileged western design school graduate swathed in expensive labels but a young man from a South African township whose journey from rags to couture is as remarkable as his clothes. "I never dreamed I would be showing my clothes on the international stage," said Malatsi. "I never realised it could happen and it is very exciting."
Malatsi's ambitions were formed under the corrugated-metal roof of his home in Soweto, Johannesburg, but there was no money to send him to college and he seemed destined to join South Africa's unemployed. "But after my father passed away, my mother had a small pension and she used it to send me to school. It was difficult to study because fashion is one career that requires a lot of money, it can be elite. I didn't realise that until I was midway through my studies, so it was not easy, it was difficult, but I wanted a good education."
Upon leaving college, Malatsi found local banks were not willing to invest in a young man who wanted to make clothes and he faced the dole queue once again until a chance recommendation found him at the doors of Richard Branson's business mentoring foundation, Virgin Unite. He began Mzansi Designers Emporium and found himself employing a growing number of staff.
"There is a lot of talent in Africa. It made me realise how important my success was to not just me and my family [but] for empowering other people." Malatsi now has 17 people working for him and has become one of a growing surge of young entrepreneurs in South Africa and many believe they will be the key to lifting the country out of poverty. "I didn't set out to be an entrepreneur, I wanted to work, but now I find I have a business and a vision. I have a five-year plan to create 850 jobs in South Africa and to take African fashion global," he said.
To read the entire article, please visit http://www.guardian.co.uk/fashion/2011/sep/18/lesego-malatsi-london-fashion-week
So when we say we are proudly African, we are not saying that it has been an easy path. We are not saying that we no longer remember where we are coming from or the culture that has made us who we are today. But we are saying that despite our past and regardless of present challenges, we are resilient, resourceful, talented and persevering. Our aim is not to be who we are not but to become the best we can be.