The vision for the International School For Champions is inspired by director and founder Catherine Omanyo. She and her husband and co-founder Pastor Daron Kendrick aim to offer unique opportunities for needy students embodying a keen awareness of social issues and actively participate in charitable work throughout the region.
“I grew up witnessing very distracting and unbearable incidences in my life that i still wonder today how possible it was to make it to the other end.
When I was in primary school, I used to come back home daily to a dying father. After many years of battling an unknown disease, he gave up. After burial, our clan elders wanted to perform rituals to cleanse my mother, and to impose marriage to a new man on her to take over all our property. She refused because she wanted time to mourn, heal and think. But that wasn’t possible, since she would have been owned by a new man the moment a dowry was paid.
She was thrown out of her house and beaten up. She was pregnant with a little girl, my sister. She wailed for help, but nobody rescued us. It was the norm and my mother had committed an abomination. A few friends and maternal relatives helped out at first, but eventually they couldn’t anymore. We were ten children and a widow. The magnitude of our suffering went a notch higher when we could no longer afford basic needs.
We would sleep in shanty houses. The worst one was in a pre fabricated area leaked whenever it could rain. Rats, cockroaches and bees lived there too, due to the untidy conditions we were in. There was a broken floor, rusted iron sheet roof, and holes on the wall that were patched by polytene papers. Many days we didn’t know where our next meal would come from. But, we survived.
I used to sneak into school to learn because I couldn’t afford school fees. Many times, I was chased away, caned, and told not to dare come back without first paying fees. I walked so many kilometers on dirt, rocky roads with pot holes, and in the bush on bare feet. It used to be painful and scary due to poisonous snakes in the bush. But, when I snuck into school, I grasped lessons and borrowed notes to read. There was no library or computers, just revising my notebooks.
Eventually, one of the teachers became concerned about my situation and sent the other pupils to look for me. By this time I had taken a long break from sneaking back in class. But I had a prompt in my heart to finish school. So, I arrived and sat behind the class so I wouldn’t be easily noticed. As soon as I arrived, the students were informing me about the teacher who was looking for me.
I was worried. I had been caned so many times on an empty stomach and with a tattered uniform that I couldn’t take it anymore. I thought of sneaking out and never coming back, but then she appeared and I had to face it and tell my story. We shouldn’t be thinking of the worst every time a threat happens, sometimes it is an opportunity or time to face your fears.
She listened and became concerned. She quickly thought of how to help and got me a scholarship. I was so grateful, but shortly thereafter I became worried again. The time between then and the National examination was only 6 months.
I had been out of school for a lot of the year, and had missed much of the material. The examination is not set from one particular year in Kenya system. It is set from anytime a student was in school, so it was hard to trace what I should revise. I was desperate. I read intensively and extensively, borrowing teachers text books and passed revision test papers.
After 6 months, I was ready.
I nailed every examination qualifying me for a prestigious top school, The University of Nairobi.
But, my sponsor had left, and he didn’t leave his contact information. In those days, there were no phones and emails. Even today, we still don’t have running water and electricity in the village. I was determined to make my life better, my family’s life better, and the life of anyone around me who needed help.
I shared my story with the staff at the university campus and one offered to get me a nanny job to help me pay for school. I was to juggle with attending classes and working for a family. In Kenya, to be a nanny is the lowest and mostly dehumanizing thing. The way most people handle nannies is unbearable, but I was ready to endure. I knew what I was looking for in life, and that was a stepping stone to cross the next hurdle.
After all that time I finally had school fees, shelter, and food. Most people do not know what they want and loose a lot of tine figuring out. Even if your vision is not clear, at least you know what you shouldn’t be doing, and you learn to be humble as you figure out where you want to go and how to reach there.
After 2 years of being a nanny, a student one day asked why I looked like a scarecrow, dressing like a mad woman and smelling bad. It was from sweat! What she didn’t know is that I couldn’t afford bus fare to get to campus, and most of the time I would run to school. I couldn’t afford deodorant or lotion. The clothes that I wore were given by my grandmother who hardly washed them clean due to lack of soap, and I was size 0 while my grandma was a size 8. The clothes she gave me had lost their color too. Any dime I made was gone even before I touched it. Paying my school fees were my number 1 priority. I looked at her and I knew right then that I was causing others discomfort. It wasn’t fair to make other people unhappy, and I hated my situation too.
Her approach was wrong but she was right. I did not have money to buy nice things, so I started picking rag left overs from tailors, and stitching them into clothes. I patched them nicely, carefully matched the colours, and fitted myself.
People on the road to the campus started stopping me and asking where I got my outfits, and I informed them that I made them. People started ordering clothes from me, and others would spontaneously buy the dresses that I had on. I made some money and decided to rent a house to focus on continuing to make other people happy.
There were many times during University when I was scolded or bullied or discriminated against. When that happens, we often think someone just doesn’t like us, but I learned to hear what whoever was scolding me was saying. Scolding is your tool to work with, and I improved my image, never to look like a scare crow and never to smell again. And, I decided to make others confidence rise by designing clothing for them. Suddenly, people started inviting me to parties and sat with me in classes without moving away from me, and were comfortable. I started helping my mother and siblings with money.
In the slum/ghetto where I had moved, I saw that there were many idle youths who were posing to become dangerous. I started befriending them to know why they were idle, and their problems were similar to what mind had been – a lack of money to pay school fees.
I started teaching these young people, offering free tuition. Because I could afford basic needs and could save some money, I rented a small room and turned it into a classroom. But, the safety in the area was waning away.
In about 2 months, the city council officers wanted to arrest me for starting an illegal business. According to them, even if it was free tuition, I needed to legalize it. I pleaded with them to give me a procedure on how it is done. Usually in situations like this, people give in and give up, but the police are human beings too and even they can detect an innocent voice. They allowed me to put my papers in order and buy a license. The next day I was in education offices knocking doors to register an education center.
And thus, in 2003, Imprezza Academy was born. However in 2007, there was a post-election war in Kenya, and I had to flee to western Kenya with many kids from the Nairobi slums, for our safety. We continued learning under a tree. Today, the school has grown and we have classrooms and temporary dormitories to shelter those who are facing challenges and need to focus on school.
I deliberately offer free tuition to those who desperately need it but lack school fees. We accept orphans, young women fleeing forced marriage, and children from severely poor families.
I am overwhelmed at the moment with 321 students but I am not stopping until I die. I also have 35 widow groups, and I teach them their rights and help them do small projects to sustain a living and take care of their children.”
-Catherine Omanyo, Director/Founder
Please consider donating to the International School For Champions to help educate and shelter needy children and orphans who cannot afford an education on their own. Thank you.