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Al Qasimi Foundation Teacher, Scholar Leads Initiative Supporting Students in Kenya

Al Qasimi Foundation
December 31, 2015

The Al Qasimi Foundation’s Teacher Scholarship program was established to contribute to the development of Ras Al Khaimah’s education sector by providing funding for the community’s distinguished teachers to improve their skills and knowledge. Sometimes, though, the positive impact of investing in local educators spreads beyond the borders of the UAE.

Ms. Jane Paille Ndungu illustrates the ripple effect that a teacher scholarship can have on communities both near and far. In addition to completing her master’s degree at the American University of Ras Al Khaimah (AURAK), Ms. Ndungu leads an initiative to support underprivileged students in Kenya. Without her scholarship to AURAK, financial obligations may have prevented her from continuing to invest in Kenyan communities.

“As a teacher and a student, I see that students of all ages take what they learn to the rest of their community, so the effects of responsible, engaged sponsorship—like that of the Al Qasimi Foundation—are far-reaching, and that’s what we see happening in Kenya as well,” says Ms. Ndungu.

Ms. Ndungu believes in the power of education to transform communities. She explains that her scholarship through the Al Qasimi Foundation has had a tangible impact on her grade four class in Ras Al Khaimah as well as on students in Kenya, where she grew up and taught at an international school before coming to the UAE.

“As soon as I enrolled in my master’s courses, I immediately found relevance in what I was studying to the classroom. I was able to take the experiences from my graduate program and apply them to the learning needs of my students in Ras Al Khaimah, while supporting university students at home [in Kenya],” says Ms. Ndungu.

Ms. Ndungu and her husband, Mr. Robert Noah Karara—also an educator in Ras Al Khaimah—are co-directors of the Bridge Soma Center, a non-profit dedicated to improving the lives of young people in Kenya by helping them attain higher education. The Bridge Soma Center provides funds for students to use toward secondary and tertiary education and offers career counseling and basic financial management counseling to Soma beneficiaries.

“I established Bridge Soma out of empathy for a young woman named Purity Karimi, who took a job as a domestic worker after she was unable to afford university, despite her good grades throughout secondary school,” explains Ms. Ndungu. “Purity was helping support her mother and siblings while she earned AED 63 each month as household help.”

Ms. Ndungu began Bridge Soma and personally funded Ms. Karimi’s university studies. After her graduation, Ms. Karimi became a teacher and then paid for her sister to earn an education degree.

For other young people, often homeless or orphans, who have completed their degrees through Bridge Soma, the program has been a path to personal and social benefits such as empowerment, raised socio-economic status, independence, good health, and more productive engagement in the society.

“After completing high school, financial challenges killed my thoughts of joining university,” says Mr. Benson Kihara, who worked at a supermarket.

Mr. Kihara later received tuition support through Bridge Soma, graduated from university with first class honors, and became an accountant in Nairobi.

Dr. Cambria Russell is an assistant professor at AURAK and was also Ms. Ndungu’s instructor and advisor there.

“Ms. Ndungu was one AURAK’s best graduate students, and her engagement clearly demonstrates the domino effect that programs such as the Al Qasimi Foundation's Teacher Scholarship program can have,” says Dr. Russell.

“That program’s financial support allowed Ms. Ndungu to continue her work with Bridge Soma while furthering her own education. Her work in Kenya has in turn provided educational opportunities for many individuals. Some of those individuals are continuing the chain of support and development as well. One scholarship has helped dozens of students.”

Like the Al Qasimi Foundation’s Teacher Scholarship program, Bridge Soma is a small operation: It has three volunteers and has funded a few dozen student scholarships in Nairobi, Mombasa, Nakuru, and Embu, Kenya.

Ms. Ndungu is open to growing Bridge Soma in the future, but understands that “giving money is the easier part of a sponsorship.” Ms. Ndungu and Mr. Karara are therefore interested in pairing Kenyan students with specific sponsors in the future, as a way to promote long-term, personal relationships among students and benefactors.

“Being involved in the lives of students and allowing students to realize their sponsors are interested in the growth they’re experiencing is as important as the financial support,” says Ms. Ndungu. She says this was the kind of encouragement she felt the Foundation provided her as a scholarship recipient.

“Developing people requires understanding their individual needs and cultivating meaningful support networks,” says Dr. Natasha Ridge, Executive Director of the Foundation. “Jane’s commitment to education embodies this belief. The Foundation was pleased to play a small role in helping her to continue bringing out the best in young people—both in Ras Al Khaimah and in Kenya.”