Happy Holidays to everyone! Here at GTL we are busy with holiday events, and I am finding a bit of time for some holiday cooking and decorating on the side. But it is also scholarship season at GTL. Every December we start to receive applications from throughout East Africa for girls who need financial help to attend middle and high schools. A few years ago the previous Executive Director, Alex Marthews, came up with a system to have our coordinators send Excel spreadsheets with the crucial information, particularly for our existing scholars. This system is a blessing that streamlines our record keeping and helps us get a leg up on hundreds of applications that need to be reviewed, decided upon and responded to right in the middle of the holidays.
We also still get hard copy applications in the mail, however, and these make the whole process seem real. This week the first arrived. Standing in a long line at the post office with local college students and Cambridge residents shipping off holiday gift boxes, I feel as if I have a delightful secret. The package I am here for will come in the inexpensive brown paper envelopes used by African secondary schools. It will be peppered with foreign stamps, tattered and torn after the long journey from Sega Centre, Kenya. Inside will be the bold, precocious dreams of almost fifty young women. In writing out her application, each scholar has declared her aspirations and her efforts to be a matter worthy of our consideration. You cannot write to strangers an ocean away unless you believe, at least on some level, that you have something to offer the world.
Most of the applications from our existing applicants will be approved. Although each scholar must reapply every year to show that she continues to be eligible and continues to care about her education, we find that most of the students we support thrive in their schools. The review of new students is more difficult and, in some cases, heartbreaking. Last year, we put in place the last of the special outreach programs. In each country, we now have a coordinator who connects directly with some of the most remote and most desperate communities in the nation. Through Sister Mary Vertucci’s Emusoi Centre in Tanzania, Caroline Lentupuru’s sub-tribe outreach in Rift Valley, Kenya and Sister Salome’s outreach in Karamoja, Uganda, we now reach young women whose communities are severely underserved when it comes to education. Because these students often need money for transportation and extra supplies, our outreach programs are more expensive, and that means that we give fewer scholarships. Sending denials will be painful.
What I am focusing on this week, however, are the acceptances. Some of these young students, having found the courage to fill out an application and declare herself to strangers half way around the world, will get back a resounding “yes!” And for those students, everything will change. They will leave villages where no woman has ever gone to high school to live and work with other young women from all over the country. They will return at holidays to become experts in their own villages, tutors for former classmates and mentors for those who dream of following them. At school, they will have second families. They will be encouraged, supported and sometimes pushed, but always, always valued. And for those of us back here in the U.S., it will begin with a wonderful moment when we get to write “accept” and realize that in some family, in some village in East Africa, nothing will ever be the same again.
Thank you to everyone who has sent donations or volunteered time this season. We could not do this without you. And we wish all of you a peaceful, healthy, happy and above all, inspired holiday season!