The Story of Juma Emmanuel

The First Recipient of the Samburu Scholarship Fund

By Whitney Tilson,

From left to right: Ciccio Azzollini, Juma Emmanuel and me, on the day we met Juma and awarded him a scholarship in January 2006

A recent picture of Juma in his school uniform, January 2007

I first visited the public school in the tiny, remote town of Sereolipi in northern Kenya in December 2004 (see pictures at  After this visit, I donated and raised money to build dormitories and fund other needs of the school so that more nomadic Samburu children could receive a primary school education.

When I returned to the school in January 2006, I became aware of a pressing problem: once students graduated from primary school, they could not afford to attend secondary (high) school.  In Kenya, to get any job, even bagging groceries or pumping gas (much less one with the government or in the private sector), a secondary school degree is required.  I heard very sad stories of top primary school students who started secondary school, but fell behind because after every semester they would have to return home and beg for money from their family and community.  By the time they’d raised the money to continue their schooling, they returned to school a week late and had difficulty catching up.  And if they failed to raise enough money for even one semester, they dropped out and all of their hard work and money was wasted.

So, my friend Ciccio Azzollini and I decided to create and fund the Samburu Scholarship Fund, which would pay for tuition, room, board, books, uniforms and travel costs for deserving students.  After we made this announcement to all of the students, families and faculty of the Sereolipi Primary School, which not surprisingly generated a great deal of excitement, a young man (whom we later learned was Juma Emmanuel) approached us and said, “Please sir, can I have a scholarship?”  He showed us his test scores, which were the best in the school, and his admission letter to the best boys school in the region (every 8th grader in Kenya takes a national test, which determines whether one qualifies for secondary school, and whether one can go to a top school).  After verifying his story, we awarded him the first scholarship of the Samburu Scholarship Fund and, after the chief of the region purchased him what he needed (including his first pair of shoes and underwear in his life), we started secondary school a few days later.  The total cost for the entire year is only $750.

Juma has a compelling, heartbreaking story.  He is an orphan and his earliest memories are from the age of seven, when he was a homeless street kid in a town called Eldoret.  A policeman found him and took him to his home where he looked after him and had him work as a servant doing domestic chores.  He also went to school when he had the opportunity.  When the policeman was posted to Sereolipi, he brought Juma along and enrolled him in the Sereolipi Primary School.  Juma loved school so when the policeman eventually moved to a new posting, Juma stayed on at the school as a boarding student.  He worked hard and, as noted earlier, had the highest score in his class (306 out of 500) on the national 8th grade exam and was accepted at Maralal High School, the best boys school in the district.  But with no money and no family, he had zero chance of ever going back to school, so when we encountered him, he was still living in the dormitory with the younger children, in despair. 

He was overjoyed to receive the scholarship (see his thank you letter below) and has continued to apply himself in school.  His grades for the first three semesters were B+ , B and C+ (the drop in the last term was due to transportation problems that caused him to miss the beginning of exams).  Juma is totally committed to success and we expect him to return to B grades next year.

Here is the letter he wrote to me recently:



Dear Sponsor,

Firstly, let me send you my very warmest greetings and heartfelt thanks.  I hope that wherever you are that you are okay and fine. Even me, I am also fine.    

Let me now tell you about my performance at school, it is very fine and good. The grades which I received for my first year of school are as follows:


First term          B+   

Second term     B

Third term        C+


Let me explain the reason why my performance declined in the last term. I was late back to School at the start of the exams due to transport problems between Sereolipi and Maralal.  This was unavoidable.  I am sorry for this.

I shall try to put more effort in next year and improve my grades. I aspire to make you very proud and I would love to achieve an A grade just for you.  I would like to make it higher and higher than those who haven't been given this golden opportunity.

Next year I have been instructed to buy some additional materials like essential text books for the following subjects: Chemistry, Physics, Mathematics and Biology.


I appreciate that this will be covered by the scholarship funds which you have provided. I just wanted to inform you of what the school has requested that I bring these next year in order for me to make my grade higher than this year.

As you may or may not remember, I am an orphan.  When all my school friends are heading home to their loving families I am left to return to Sereolipi alone.  Only by the good heart of the Chief have I got a place to live.

This holiday I have been working on the Senet [Sereolipi Nomadic Education Trust] building site and have made some money. We are currently planning to take part in a Community Project, perhaps an awareness programme on HIV/AIDS. In my free time I plan to make body building equipment. I like to keep fit and healthy.

My career intentions are still to become a doctor or a teacher (if my grades aren't high enough). It is a little early to say what I shall go on to study at University, but I shall keep you informed.  Your help with school fees has helped me more than you could ever imagine.

I dream of one day thanking you in person and possibly even inviting you to my Graduation from University?  I can only dream of what life is like for you outside of Africa.  I try to imagine.

With great love now and always and a great deal of thanks.

Juma Emmanuel