For two St. Anne’s-Belfield School students, this year didn’t just mark the start of high school but also the start of their lives in the United States.
Sophomores Melvin Kanaiza and Vitalis Wekesa both moved to Charlottesville from Kenya this year after receiving Bridge International scholarships. Kanaiza came from a secondary-level school in Gachie, near Nairobi, and Wekesa transferred from a school in Eldoret, a city in western Kenya.
Both students said the chance to study at a school in the U.S. was too good of an opportunity to pass up.
“I would like to learn more and do more than what my mother did, and I want her to have a good life after what she has gone through for me,” she said.
Because of the scholarship she received, Kanaiza will be able to stay at St. Anne’s-Belfield for the rest of her high school career. She said she hopes to eventually become a cardiologist.
“I want to do something that helps others,” she said.
Though she was initially scared she would have a hard time making friends, Kanaiza said everyone she has met has been friendly and accepting. Some of her biggest culture shock came from American food, she said.
“It’s different,” Kenaiza said. “But I am getting used to it.”
Wekesa decided to come to school in the U.S. for similar reasons as Kanaiza. Unhappy with the way Kenyan schools were structured and the stigma that came with going to a day school, he decided to seek other opportunities.
According to Wekesa, a day school is similar a public school in America, but with larger classes, worse funding and fewer teachers. At such a school it can be difficult to receive an adequate education, he said. Grades, or “marks,” play a bigger role in students’ lives than in the U.S., as only the students with the best marks can get into better, private schools, he said.
“In Kenya, things are different,” he said. “The marks you get in class determine what kind of school you can get into and the level of respect you’ll receive.”
After facing financial problems at home, Wekesa began applying himself in school more and more, and quickly rose to the top of his class.
He plans to study engineering in college and might double-major in computer science.
Because they otherwise would not have been able to afford a private school education, Kanaiza and Wekesa both applied for a scholarship through Bridge International Academies, a network of schools started in Kenya in 2008 that now educates more than 100,000 students.
Bridge International was founded by three friends who met at Harvard University and were hoping to solve education issues across the globe. Focusing first on parts of Africa, Bridge International Schools seek to prepare teachers, equip classrooms with the necessary equipment and help build an accountable and trustworthy education system. By offering high quality education in underserved areas of the world, Bridge hopes to help break the cycle of poverty.
Kanaiza and Wekesa are among many students given the opportunity to study in other countries via Bridge scholarships, according to Ben Rudd, director of public relations for Bridge International Academies,.
“With the help of the generous school community in your region, Bridge has been able to send children from communities affected by poverty and violence to high schools in the United States. The scholarship program has been a resounding success since it began last year,” he wrote in a news release.
For the 2018 – 2019 school year, tuition and board for the Upper School at St. Anne’s is $58,000. All four years Kanaiza and Wekesa’s education are covered by their scholarships.