As of June of this year, we have officially turned eleven years old! And in the past eleven years, Friends of Ngong Road students consistently outperformed their Kenyan peers, achieved higher levels of education, and were employed at rates far above their peers. In fact, 91 percent of our students who have completed a post-secondary course are either employed or on their way to employment in internships. This is compared to just 15 percent of the young adults who try to enter the Kenyan labor market each year according to the 2016 Kenya Economic Report.
With such impressive results, we wanted to know why our students have been outperforming and achieving at such high rates. Tulane University also wanted to know what was happening at Friends of Ngong Road to produce such great results.
In August of this year, Dr. Izabela Steflja, a professor of Global Development at Tulane University, interviewed 35 of our top performing secondary and post-secondary students. Her goal was to identify what components have been leading to such high rates of success.
The initial findings are that it is the web of caring adults that we have wrapped around the students that is making the biggest impact. The consistent school teachers, concerned guardians, caring caseworkers, dedicated volunteers, and sponsors who students do not want to disappoint, all have an impact.
While a correlation between the number of caring adults in a child’s life and student success aligns to other research about children affected by trauma, we were surprised to find what an impact sponsors have had on students. Most sponsors do not get the chance to meet the child they sponsor. They do their best to write a few times a year, about twice a year has been our recommendation. And yet, Tulane’s research concludes that the sponsor relationship is integral for students success along with the other caring adults in the student’s life.
Sponsor Portal Launched
With these results, we decided we needed to find ways for sponsor and student interactions to be more accessible. Last month we launched the sponsor portal where sponsors can easily write an email to their student, review all historic assessment reports and school marks, learn more about the student’s school, view any photos Friends of Ngong Road has tagged of the student, and more. If you are a sponsor and have not yet logged into your portal, click here to learn more about how to log in and use the portal.
Sponsor Tips and Tricks
We also interviewed a few sponsors who have had uniquely personal sponsor relationships to learn more about how they created such a deep relationships and to share their tips and tricks. Here’s what we learned:
Bob and Karin Oliver
From the beginning of their relationship with their sponsored child, Edmond, Bob and Karin worked on remaining authentic and honest in their writings. Karin shared the pain of losing her mother and the joy of their new granddaughter’s birth. She let herself be personal and open, and she thinks this helped create a safe space for the relationship to flourish.
Karin said that whenever they heard from Edmond, they would make an effort to respond within a few days, and they would highlight just one or two areas from his letter and respond. They kept it simple and would write something like, “In your last letter you wrote that “___.” Tell us more about that. Or, “Now we have one other question for you.” Karin said by keeping the communications to just one or two simple questions, they were not overwhelming Edmond and they were able to more quickly respond and keep the conversation going.
Bob and Karin also noted that they worked to find common ground. They learned that Edmond loved basketball, so they educated Edmond about the Spurs basketball team in their home state. They would send news articles about Spurs players visiting HIV+ patients and volunteering in the community. Again, they never threw too much to Edmond at once. They kept it to one or two stories and let him respond.
Finally, Karin said that Edmond always responded positively to photos she would send. He somehow “inserted himself into our family” after seeing pictures of us with names written on the back or below if in an email.
Overall, Karin suggests keeping correspondences simple. Do not fret about responding to everything. Just sit down, write something simple and specific, and let the relationship grow naturally over time.
Just last month Edmond completed his Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education exam. The exam results determine what type of a post-secondary education he can be admitted to in Kenya. Bob and Karin are involved in U.S. higher education systems and have been deeply committed to communicating with Edmond about his next steps in his education.
Janet Gleason is the mother of Tom Gleason, longtime Friends of Ngong Road volunteer, camp director, and past board member. Tom connected Janet to her sponsored student, Victor, and over many years a wonderful relationship formed.
Janet said she communicated most often with pictures. She would send photos of Misty their dog or of flags flying along roads for Memorial Day or the Fourth of July. She would send copies of photos that she received of Victor when he was younger. She found that any time she sent a photo, Victor would eagerly open up with questions and comments.
Janet also commented that she was intentional about opening up to hard topics. Tom came back from a trip to Kenya one summer frustrated by the little progress that had been made across the country to provide sexual and reproductive health education and resources and the consequences it had on our students. Janet took a deep breath and decided to write to Victor about the topic. She said that conversation was one of her greatest joys. She trusted that her relationship with Victor was strong enough to dive into hard topics. He always accepted the conversation and appreciated her honesty and openness.
Overall, Janet says that she believed in building a long-term relationship with Victor. And it paid off for both Janet and Victor. They are still very connected. Today Victor is studying Computer Mathematics at Kenyatta University and is a role model for younger students.
Midge has had the opportunity to visit her students quite regularly and today has a very comfortable, relaxed relationship with each of them. But it wasn’t always that way. Midge says she remembers a lot of nervousness and shyness when the relationship first started.
While Midge has had the opportunity to visit her students nearly every year, she still finds joy in the mailed and emailed communications. Midge says “While our worlds are so incredibly different, students get a geography lesson from me and both of our worldviews get to be expanded. Sometimes I write about stories from my past like what it felt like when I started high school or my relationship with my siblings and parents. I also try to offer them encouragement and support to stay focused on their studies and to stress that I “have their back.” And sometimes their letters just crack my heart right open! The students feed my soul and restore my faith in humankind. They are deeply loving and appreciative souls!”
Midge also commented on how getting to meet the guardians of the children she sponsors really deepened her relationship with them. She is grateful for the relationship she has been able to build with the students and the guardians over the years.
Midge suggests being patient with students as the relationship continues to form over the years. She says that students are nervous and do not want to disappoint their sponsors. Plus there is a huge cultural difference that must be bridged over time for a deep relationship to form. Patience for the process and patience for the students can go a long way.
If you are not yet a sponsor but are interested in what sponsorship entails, please contact Lacey at firstname.lastname@example.org or 612-568-4211.