Nelly Sopiato is a miracle. Currently in college to become a teacher, she has been funded by the S.H.E. College Fund since 2015. This is a photo of her as a student-teacher with her class just after they won first place in Mathematics in a competition against teams from all over Kenya. Can’t you feel her joy and love for the students?
Nelly’s journey to that moment was a duet of misery and miracle. Born to a very poor family, her parents both died when she was five. Although a friend of the family promised to support her as his daughter, soon he took her to an orphanage in Nairobi where she was forced, with the other children, to carry heavy stones at a construction site. She writes, “I grew thinner and thinner. I suffered there for almost a year.” One day, miraculously, a friend of her parents happened to recognize her. He brought her home to her village, where eventually she found a sponsor to pay her school fees.
In Nelly’s village the Maasai still practice Female Genital Mutilation. Usually the ceremony takes place when a girl is between 8 and 16. When Nelly graduated 8th grade, she knew she had to run away, or she would be “cut” and married off. It was then she fled to the Tasaru Center (which means “Rescue Center” in Maasai), also known as the V-Day Safe House. Tasaru sends all the rescued girls who live there to school until they graduate from High School (Form Four).
At the end of Secondary School all Kenyan students are given a standardized test. Their grade on that test determines their future. Although Nelly was a diligent student and worked hard in all her classes, she did not do well on the exam. No longer protected by the law, Nelly couldn’t stay at the Safe House. And when she went back to the village where her remaining relatives lived, she was excommunicated from the family because she refused to be sold off into marriage. She writes, “That was where I faced the hardest life and I almost committed suicide. I lost hope completely. Only God knows what I passed through. I had only the clothes on my back and I wore them for a week without washing. Often I would go for days without eating.”
There are many unsung saints that make our work at S.H.E. possible. One of them is Emily Ketter, the secretary at the Safe House. Emily knows every girl at the Safe House intimately. She knows her grades. She knows her attitudes. But she also knows each girl’s heart, and her strengths as a person. Emily wrote to us on behalf of Nelly and some of the other girls who were graduating High School. Because of Emily’s recommendation, we were able to find Nelly funding to go to college in spite of her poor test results.
Now Nelly is thriving in her Diploma program at the University of Eldoret in Nakuru, Kenya. She is majoring in Early Childhood Development and Education. She went from a D+ GPA in Secondary School to receiving B’s in her college courses. Some of her classes are: Child Growth and Development, Children with Special Needs, Child Psychology and Health and Nutrition. Her first internship as a student teacher was so successful (see photos!) that the head teacher of the school promised her a job when she graduates.
Nelly speaks and writes English well now. She also knows Swahili and her native Maasai tongue. When she’s not studying, Nelly enjoys playing soccer, learning how to use her new computer, creating beadwork, going to church, dancing and singing. She has made a recording of Gospel songs.
Nelly wrote in a recent e-mail, “I really appreciate you people for the love and care you have for me. I am thankful and happy to know that Judy [one of her funders] has been behind my success all the way through her support. Judy, all my days have been full of joy and laughter since you and your friends started supporting me.”
Nelly has a unique resilience and drive for life. Through the donations of her group of funders, S.H.E. has been able to give Nelly the opportunity to transform her life and become a model for other girls in her culture. Now she is becoming a proud teacher and making us proud, too. We all can learn from Nelly.
~ By Donna LaPerle and Kim Rosen