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Tikikil (right) and her friends at the State House in Nairobi. (State House Nairobi)

Nairobi, 21 November 2017 – “I just want to make my parents proud,” says young Tikikil, providing some insight into what motivates this first-year high school pupil. Her accomplishments are, indeed, impressive. Halfway through her first year of high school, she was already among a small group of high school pupils invited to the State House in Nairobi to attend a 3-day workshop (October 3-6, 2017) as part of the Pupils Reward Scheme (PURES), a mentorship project for bright pupils sponsored by the president of Kenya, President Uhuru Kenyatta and the First Lady, Margaret Kenyatta. According to the Government of Kenya's official website, the project was "initiated by the President to motivate pupils to work hard in their studies and instil in them a sense of discipline, direction, and patriotism."

Officials at her school, Facing Mount Kenya Girls Secondary School, cited her excellent academic results as well as her many talents and leadership abilities as the reason why she was chosen as one of only three pupils to represent the school.

Tikikil is one of the beneficiaries of JRS Nairobi’s education program, an urban project. The program provides assistance in the form of tuition fees, uniform, medical assistance, material assistance and boarding item requirements based on the institution to selected needy beneficiaries. The program covers the entire education spectrum, from early childhood education (ECD) up to university level. However, as primary education is considered free in Kenya, no direct assistance is offered at this level. Instead, JRS engages institutions to ensure refugee children access education services without constraint. Currently, the program supports 40 children in secondary school and 11 university students. 45 more students are sponsored to pursue various vocational skills trainings.

Tikikil arrived in Kenya with her family in 2013, fleeing persecution in her native country of Ethiopia. “I spoke very little English and no Kiswahili at all,” she says in perfect English, recalling when she first arrived in Kenya. In fact, she also serves as the school’s language prefect, whose job is to ensure everyone speaks English within the school premises! Her current exemplary performance did not come easy, however. When she first arrived in Kenya, she had to repeat grade 6 and, to her own admission, her performance in the Kenyan certificate of primary education test was underwhelming. “My father was disappointed, and I made a promise to myself that it will not happen again,” says the only child of a professional photographer father and housewife mother. Her resolve is beyond doubt, and with a look of steely determination that is the perseverance of youth, her march to success seems all but inexorable, an assessment shared by the school’s headmistress.

Her academic prowess is, however, only part of the explanation for Tikikil’s good standing at her school. The headmistress described her as talented, outgoing, and endowed with a great sense of duty. She is very active within the school’s community as evidenced by her participation in various clubs. As a member of the school’s journalism club, she collects information from newspaper articles and magazines on general interest topics and shares them with the rest of the school. She is also a member of the Red Cross club. One of her passions is the environment which explains her predilection for geography over other subjects taught at school, although she has no difficulties with any of the others. She hopes to become an environmental scientist one day and contribute to the fight against climate change.  

If Tikikil’s story gives us reason to rejoice, it is exactly because it should. Moreover, this should be the story of every child in the world, including refugee children. One child out of school is one too many. Every child potential that goes to waste is a loss humanity simply cannot afford.