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Tuesday, March 31, 2020

We were poor and hopeless, but now we have wings to fly

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Katy Safari was the brightest pupil in her class. She had maintained a high academic performance throughout her primary school years. Her teachers had no doubt that she would excel in her KCPE.

But as she sat for her national examinations last year, Katy had no hope of joining Form One. Her mother was poor and could not afford to fend for her and still manage to get school fees. In any case, Katy, who hails from Lamu County, had already watched her elder brother’s hopes of getting an education wilt in the sun. Her brother had excelled in his KCPE examinations.

However, despite getting a secondary school slot, he was forced to become a fisherman so that he could support his mother and siblings. It was not so far-fetched that when the KCPE results were released by Education Cabinet Secretary George Magoha last year, Katy’s reaction to her performance was a juxtaposition of joy and pain. Joy that she had managed to score an impressive 401 marks out of the possible 500, and pain that she could not proceed to secondary school just like her elder brother.

She got a slot at Mama Ngina Girls High School. But whichever way she looked at her chances, she saw herself becoming a house girl in Lamu or the neighbouring Mombasa County. Then she secured a scholarship from Equity Bank Group’s Wings to Fly sponsorship program.

The Wings to Fly scholarship is a program that was started by Equity Bank in partnership with Mastercard Foundation. The program targets bright but needy children. Since inception, the program has so far sponsored 17,304 students.

Katy Safari was the latest beneficiary. But she was not alone. She was among 1,136 children from financially challenged backgrounds who got the scholarship this year. “Make the best use of this opportunity and study hard to make your family and the community proud. In four years’ time, we want to celebrate because of how well you will have performed. Your predecessors have continued to do well and we that trust you will emulate them. You are being nurtured to be global leaders. Globalize your mind, there is life beyond your community and nation,” said Equity Group Foundation Executive Chairman Dr. James Mwangi.

Dr. Mwangi said this to the new beneficiaries and other needy children like Ezekiel Morinke who are already in class thanks to this program. Morinke, who hails from Narok County, received his scholarship last year. He is the second of seven children and his mother, his only parent, earns a living from making and selling Maasai ornaments. “My father left us when we were very young. I have not seen him in years.  Mum has been taking care of us the best she can. Sometimes she does housework for people, sometimes she tends peoples’ farms, and at other times she makes and sells ornaments. It has not been easy to fend for us,” he said. The young man has a dream of becoming a neurosurgeon one day.

Interestingly, children receiving Wings to Fly scholarships have not disappointed either. In the 2019 KCSE national examinations, Equity Bank’s Wings to Fly produced 3.8 per cent of Grade A. This class that started Form One in 2016 produced 24 A’s and 199 A-‘s. These 223 students then got internship opportunities at Equity bank with a monthly salary of Sh. 40,000. “These students have excelled in national examinations with 93 per cent qualifying for university, with majority assuming leadership positions in their schools and communities. Their performance has validated our belief that given an opportunity, low income people are as capable and are industrious enough to work their way into prosperity,’’ said Dr. Mwangi.

The people power behind Equity Bank’s success

Over the past 10 years, students under this program have maintained a 96 per cent secondary school completion rate, with 82 per cent of them attaining university entry qualification grades. Interestingly, the Wings to Fly program does not begin and end with secondary sponsorship. It unlocks the door to a future of academic excellence and possibilities.

Take David Okinyi, 24. He secured the Equity sponsorship at the age of eighteen. On May 6 last year, Okinyi graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Economics and a Bachelor’s degree in Business and Global Politics. He is now set to pursue his Master’s degree in Finance at the Arizona State University, USA. So far, some 8,062 beneficiaries have joined universities after completing their secondary school while 2,000 have join Technical and Vocational Education Training (TVET) institutions.

In any given event, these sponsorships and the thousands of beneficiaries have stamped Equity Bank as the bank that is closest to the common man. Indeed, since its inception in October 1984, the bank has been the choice of millions of Kenyans who were previously unwanted and considered unbankable by other mainstream banks. “Equity has positioned itself as the bank that you can walk into and deposit your Sh. 200 without fear or shame. The farmer in the village, the woman selling charcoal in Kawangware, and the civil servant working at the lands office have the same equal opportunity to save, access funding and grow wealth,” says Jacqueline Kibet, a financial advisor based in Nairobi.

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