Ottawa-Italian Bond Keeping Kenyan Kids in School

The Italian influence in Malindi, Kenya is obvious immediately. Next to the palm-roofed African restaurants and the motorcycle taxi stands, you find a gelato shop, a pizza restaurant and one small Italian Deli. Even the local cathedral, built with support from Italy, bears the name of St. Anthony of Padua.

St. Anthony Cathedral is the home parish of Ottawa-native, Nina Chung, who first arrived in Malindi in 2005 on a 2-year volunteer posting. During her initial time there, she got involved with a grandmother who was struggling to raise six of her grandchildren. Abandoned by their parents, their grandmother was their only means of support. She had no formal work and the family was just scraping by.


Nina stepped in to take the school-age children to school in 2006. That was a first small step which later lead to the establishment of Elimu, a registered Canadian charity operating educational projects in Kenya. Today, Nina is president of Elimu and spends most of the year in Kenya overseeing their projects.

The Italian influence in Malindi comes largely from tourism. Malinda used to be a popular tourist destination with Italians. But the tourism industry in Kenya has been severely decimated in recent years by a spate of terrorist attacks. In Malindi where business relied heavily on tourism, it is practically non-existent.

The economic downturn has severely affected parents who find it harder and harder to afford decent schooling for their kids. In Kenya, primary education is almost free (there are minimal admission fees and parents pay for exams and any school activities). But high school still has significant tuition fees and these have been increasing.

As parents struggle to make ends meet, children are forced to drop out of school. Nina Chung says “The work of Elimu is even more relevant these days. Keeping kids in school preserves their self-esteem and gives parents hope for their future. It relieves some of the stress of today. The need is greater than ever.”


Orphans and other vulnerable children are hardest hit. Adults have to choose between paying their own childrens’ school fees or supporting an orphaned family member. Single mothers especially those with minimal education find it harder to even cover daily living costs. They turn to organizations like Elimu to help keep their kids in school.

Elimu’s ‘Stay in School’ Sponsorship Project was inspired by the plight of families who cannot afford their childrens’ school fees. The organization steps in on a short or long term basis to help keep kids in school. Assistance is most needed as children enter high school. But some assistance is also provided for primary school children. In some case, it is as simple as paying for uniforms or text books. Sometimes as little $80 is enough. It covers the national high school exam fee and ensures that the child, after four years of high school, can sit for their final government exams and obtain their high school certificate. With a high school certificate chances of getting ahead in life are much greater in today’s Kenya. Even a cashier’s job at a local grocery store now requires a certificate.

One recent Elimu graduate knows the value of his education. Jackson graduated high school in 2013. In Kenya graduates wait about three months for their results. During that time, he worked informally at the local market. But once he had his official certificate in hand, Jackson started looking for a better job. In November 2014, he successfully sat for an interview with a local telecom company. The interview was in Nairobi and Elimu assisted him with the fare.


He got the job and today, spends his mornings cycling around the Malindi area distributing cell phone credit for resale to a variety of small and medium-size businesses. His monthly earnings just allow him to pay his rent and look after his basic living expenses. He tightens his belt in order to put aside some cash to pay for a driving course. He knows the more skills he can gain the better his chances of getting a better job in future or even starting his own business. He hopes to open a shop like those he serves at the moment offering cell phones, accessories and phone credit.

Jackson’s hopes for a secondary school education fell through when his single Mum became seriously ill and passed away in 2011, his Form 2 year (that’s the equivalent of Grade 10). Someone in his community tried to keep him at school after that but could only manage a few months. His younger sister was taken in by relatives, but Jackson was left on his own. He continued to live at the home his Mum had rented for them, cooking and cleaning for himself. Another relative helped pay the rent, but couldn’t also cover school fees. It looked like he’d have to drop out. Around that time, he met Nina Chung and told his story. Elimu stepped in, covered his school fees arrears and paid his ongoing fees to keep him in school.

Elimu runs three more education-based projects in Kenya. Nyumbani Kwetu is a small sponsored family home for 16 orphaned or abandoned children. The name means “our place” in Swahili, the national language in Kenya. Elimu also provides young women with income generating skills though a partnership with a local sewing college. At the end of the two-year program, graduates receive their own new foot-pedal sewing machine. They take their machines home to their rural villages and immediately start their own businesses. In 2013, Elimu completed the building of a nursery school for a village outside Malindi. The school is run under the management of the local Sabaki village community.

For more information and to make a donation to Elimu (Canada) visit

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To find out how you can get involved contact Elimu volunteer, Angela Ierullo at 613 8281807.

Cheques can be sent to Elimu at P.O. Box 4765, Ottawa, ON K1S 5H9.  Tax receipts available for donations of $20 or more. Elimu is a registered Canadian charity. BN 828374314 R00001.

by Sue Stoltz