A few times over the years, we have tragically lost students due to a combination of illness and the challenges they face. This spring, we lost a student who had just recently graduated from her post-secondary program, and who was a treasured friend and active part of the NRCA program. Her sponsor, Sally Kenney, wrote some beautiful memories of their time together:
Cynthia Adhiambo joined the program in 2008 in class five. I became her sponsor in 2012 after I first visited Kenya and asked the program director to find a second girl for me to sponsor.
Her brother Godfrey is in 12th grade now and in the program. Her sister, Veraly, is not in the program because she lives with their grandmother in rural Kenya, and Cynthia was always very worried about her. Her mother died in 2015 from HIV related complications. After her mother passed, Cynthia and the siblings were left under their father’s care; she was also close to her uncle. She had an eye condition which was finally corrected by surgery; and she had had malaria which recurred.
She went to St. Mary’s Boarding School and wrote a moving essay about how frightened and lonely she felt when her mother took her there, a two-hour matatu ride from home. She was so disappointed to earn a C- on her exams and told me that she had failed, but I hope I convinced her of how well she had done especially considering of all the obstacles she had overcome. She wrote that she saw herself in the future as “a very successful woman and a role model in the society. I see myself employed in a very big company. And also aspiring to open my own company and employ the jobless in the society.”
She was shy and soft-spoken, easily embarrassed and often lacking in confidence except in church, where she could belt out “Praise God.” The photo of two of my sponsored students, Sharon and Cynthia, is from my first visit, and you can see how shy yet happy Cynthia was. As you can see from the safari picture, she was not sure she wanted to touch the rhinoceros, but she got pretty close. On safari, she tried hard to use the binoculars in order to please me, a birder.
She would arrive in camp clutching plastic bags with no suitcase or pillow. She was especially thrilled last summer to learn how to knit. The photo of her participation in our yoga routine for talent night shows what a beautiful young woman she had become.
Cynthia completed her coursework and final project at the Kenya Institute of Management for a Diploma in Sales and Marketing and was hoping to graduate at the end of the year. Despite her soft-spokenness, she was selected to be a YPP (Youth Peer Provider) trainer in NRCA’s Sexual and Reproductive Health Program. She had also started creating awareness on the importance of menstrual hygiene to primary and high school girls this year. She was thrilled to be selected for the group and listened intently to all the programs. She was also chosen to be a squad leader for summer camp in 2014.
Cynthia was very sick in mid-March and was admitted at Kenyatta National Hospital where she was diagnosed with GBS (Guillain-Barre Syndrome). She died on April 3rd, 2019.
I treasure the many sweet handwritten letters she sent me, although in the last few years we had mostly emailed or chatted via WhatsApp. Her Christmas greeting to me expressed how much she loved the YPP program. I have the beautiful thank you card she wrote to me, always referring to me as Mum. Some of my most treasured memories were of shopping with her to prepare for school and taking her to eat chicken (for a slender girl, she could put away a lot of chicken!). It is hard to convey how much pleasure it gave me to see how thrilled she was to have a new dress or a new pair of jeans, especially when I think of how hard life was for her after her Mom died. Cynthia often found temporary work washing neighbors’ clothes to pay the family’s rent and ensure they had the essentials as she went off to school. Despite the fact that she often went without food, she would be the first to urge me to share our carry out with a hungry child begging on the street.
It seems so sad to lose her now, just as she had really hit her stride and overcome so many obstacles. I love her, will miss her terribly, but will never forget her.
Sally J. Kenney
New Orleans, April 14th