At WE College in Narok County, classrooms sit empty. However, the students aren’t idle. They’re putting newfound skills in medicine, agriculture and entrepreneurship to work protecting their communities from COVID-19.
Education has been at the heart of WE’s work since 1995, when a group of 12-year-olds started circulating petitions to get children out of sweatshops and into classrooms. In 2019, WE College opened in Narok County, Kenya, thanks to the generous support of many donors. One of the only post-secondary institutions in the region, it enables local students to continue their education without having to leave for urban centers.
Education is empowerment. It provides the skills and tools that enable vulnerable communities to lift themselves out of poverty. And as we’re seeing now, it makes these communities more resilient to serious threats like a global pandemic.
Here are some young local heroes who are using their education for maximum impact.
Truphena Cherotich is studying at the School of Nursing at WE College. Medicine has been her lifelong passion, and the opening of WE College enabled her to fulfil her dream. Truphena comes from the village of Salabwek and aspires to give back to her community. As fear about the pandemic continues to grow, Truphena believes she can be a positive change-maker.
Since volunteering to support WE’s prevention awareness campaign, Truphena has spent every day going door to door assisting in the setup of hand washing stations and demonstrating sanitization procedures. Applying her nursing knowledge, she’s dispelling local misconceptions about COVID-19—like the belief that food and drinks containing garlic will kill the virus.
In the process, Truphena has become a role model in her community, inspiring other young people, especially girls.
Sharon Chemutai is another nursing student at WE College. Sharon is passionate about nursing and embodies the spirit of WE, believing that she has a responsibility to create positive change. Sharon recognizes the value of every little action in building a safer, healthier world.
For the past few weeks, Sharon has been volunteering in her community of Saroiyot. Like Truphena, she has gone door to door to train her fellow community members on how they can work together to beat COVID-19, demonstrating proper hand washing and explaining social distancing. Just as important, Sharon is helping people deal with anxiety over the pandemic, providing a source of comfort and reassurance.
In addition to supporting the WE awareness campaign, Sharon is also applying her wealth of knowledge in nursing to support local mothers and newborns. She’s conducting health education for pregnant women focused on the importance of going to the hospital to deliver, making regular visits to antenatal clinics, family planning, and personal and environmental hygiene.
Good nutrition is vital to making sure community members are healthy and therefore more resilient to the virus. So nursing students aren’t the only ones able to put their education to work for their community in this difficult time. Caleb Kipsang, an agricultural entrepreneurship student at WE College, is dedicated to ensuring his community has nutritious food to eat.
Caleb is passionate about agriculture and agribusiness, as well as being an enthusiastic environmentalist. He comes from a farming community, and at a young age mastered the art of nurturing tree seedlings. He’s translated that experience into a tree nursery enterprise with more than 5,000 young trees, raising both indigenous and non-indigenous species, including avocados, citrus and guavas.
Caleb has also become an expert in designing and cultivating kitchen gardens. As the threat of COVID-19 grows in his country, Caleb believes that kitchen gardens—made from ordinary sacks with manure and soil layers—are the best way for families to grow subsistence crops like vegetables to nourish their households. He has already committed to establishing four local kitchen gardens, and is working on a compost pit to generate organic manure for the gardens.
And while Caleb works to help his neighbors, he is also mentoring his young brother Aron, who can always be found working alongside Caleb in every task.
WE College may be closed for now, but its students are upholding the vision upon which the school was founded: education in the service of community.