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 NRCF program. Her sponsor, Sally Kenney, wrote some beautiful memories of their time together:
Cynthia 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. Cynthia was always very worried about her. 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 had malaria which recurred.
Cynthia went to St. Mary’s Boarding School. She 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 lower grade on her exams and told me that she had failed. I hope I convinced her of how well she had done especially considering 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 society. I see myself employed in a very big company. And also aspiring to open my own company and employ the jobless in 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. You can see how shy yet happy Cynthia was. The safari picture shows her initial hesitation about touching the rhinoceros, but she eventually got close enough. 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 Sales and Marketing Diploma at Kenya Institute of Management, aiming to graduate at the end of the year. Despite her soft-outspokenness, she was selected to be a YPP (Youth Peer Provider) trainer in NRCF’s Sexual and Reproductive Health Program. She also started creating awareness of 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. Cynthia was also chosen to be a squad leader for summer camp in 2014.
Cynthia was very sick in mid-March and was admitted to Kenyatta National Hospital. She was diagnosed with GBS (Guillain-Barre Syndrome). She passed away 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. 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. 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 often lacking food, she encouraged me to share our carry-out with a hungry child on the street.
The loss of her is deeply sad, as she had been overcoming numerous obstacles and reaching her full potential. I love her, and will miss her terribly, but will never forget her.
Sally J. Kenney
New Orleans, April 14th