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Elimu Means 'Education' — and That's Just the Beginning

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Nina Chung with her brother, Br. Alex Chung, MIC, at the National Shrine of The Divine Mercy.

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Nina Chung with a dear friend in Kenya whom her group, Elimu, is assisting.

By Marc Massery (Jul 28, 2017)
Sharpened pencils, ballpoint pens, lined paper, glossy textbooks — students in the United States will buy these items next month as they prepare to go back to school. Not so in Malindi, Kenya.

Students in this coastal city lack the necessities for a proper education. Most classrooms pack 50 to 60 children into one room, sharing just two or three textbooks among them. On average, three out of five students are able to read. But without books, they can only rely on what the teachers write on the chalkboard. Though Kenya offers "free" public schools, over the years, monetary charges have increasingly crept in, such as admission and exam fees. Students must pay for their own uniform; without it they cannot enter. Furthermore, the cost of any damages to the school buildings, such as a leaky roof, falls on the students.

Nina Chung, sister of seminarian Br. Alex Chung, MIC, has devoted her life to making it possible for the children of Malindi to receive proper schooling, no matter how poor. "I see this as my vocation," Nina said. "God led me to see the terrible struggles these kids and parents have."

Nina left her own marketing business in Ottowa, Canada, in 2004. She gave up her salary and traveled to Africa, expecting to spend two years of service with a National Government Organization called Voluntary Service Overseas. But Nina never came home. She saw hungry children lacking their most basic needs. Many turn to drugs and alcohol because they never received the simple knowledge needed to maintain a job and secure a regular income. Often, daughters leave home, meet men, get pregnant, deliver their children, ween their children and leave them in the care of their grandmothers.

"This is a common trend," Nina explained. "Grandmothers provide for two, four, six, eight, 10 kids at a time." Many of these caregivers wash clothes to make a meager income. Without any other profitable skills, they struggle to feed their families. Some children go an entire day without food, never mind a textbook.

Out of compassion and mercy for the most vulnerable and forgotten, Nina started her own non-profit called Elimu, which means "education" in Swahili. Elimu gives children in Malindi the chance to have a proper education and, thus, hope for the future. This non-profit got its start when Nina financed two children through nursery school. It grew when she rented a house for 16 students, giving them food, clothing, and medicine in addition to an education. Her newest expansion provides resources to students throughout Malindi in the form of access to digital textbooks.

In 2016, Nina established The Elimu Resource Centre. For the equivalent of 20 cents per day, students can study in a secure place outside the classroom. Computers let students read Wikipedia, play math games, and watch tutorials. Kindles hold digital textbooks for grades four through 12. Nina's staff of 10 volunteers provide support for the children, academic, personal, and even spiritual. "The place here is safe, bright, airy," Nina said. "You can read any textbook. There's nothing else like this in Malindi." The center opens at 8 a.m., but students begin lining up outside the door at 7 a.m. Some days, they wait three hours just to have a chance to study there.

Seeing a greater need, Nina started to bring Kindles, a laptop, and a projector to schools throughout Malindi so that more students could read textbooks.

"What we're doing right now — taking our resources out into the community — is not really funded," Nina explained. "We're just doing it because it's in great demand and making a huge difference."

Nina hopes that with additional funding, she'll be able to purchase more e-readers like the Kindle. She also anticipates helping more students pay the fees that allow them to attend school. She's optimistic because donations to Elimu are now tax deductible for donors from the United States.

So far, a few of Nina's students have graduated high school and she expects more to do the same. The program is still growing, and Nina hopes that, eventually, natives of Malindi will run Elimu on their own.

A few years ago, Elimu helped a girl named Hadiji become the first from her community to graduate high school. Just last week, Hadiji finished her exams and graduated from college with a degree in business. Next, she heads to job interviews.

Hadiji overcame the obstacles of the Malindi culture, as well as family challenges. When Hadiji was in the 11th grade, her mother started to suffer from mental illness. Worrying about her mom's health made it difficult for Hadiji to concentrate at school. With the help of Nina and Elimu, however, she got through it.

"Somehow, something touched her heart and we were able to get her to realize that worrying gets us nowhere. We told her that if she pushed through two more years, she could provide for her mom," Nina said.

When Hadiji uses her degree to secure a decent income, she will be able to provide for the rest of her family and help her younger siblings through school. "That's really what we're aiming for," Nina explained. "Help the one, get them somewhere, and then they keep the rest of their family going."

To learn more about Elimu, visit Elimu-usa.org.

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Kamotho - Aug 1, 2017

We have ensured that the digital content in the resource centre are educational centred. We regularly check what the children are reading. We don't condone any Material that is obscene.

Erin - Aug 1, 2017

This sounds similar to Mary's meals. I am so pleased when I hear of missionaries with this passion, to educate the impoverished. I just trust Nina ensures there is no access to inappropriate content in the resource center. I will pray for her and the children. Beautiful story!

Jennifer - Aug 1, 2017

Nina is a shining light for these kids! God bless her and her staff in Malindi for making brighter futures for these precious kids.