Snapshot #1:Gaining an Education without Losing your Family

Spending time this summer with our students in the East African countries of Kenya, Uganda, and Tanzania, we want to share with you a glimpse into their daily lives.

Snapshot #1: Gaining an Education without Losing Your Family

by Suzanne Skees

Students from developing countries all over the world face a similar dilemma–their worldview expands, yet they wish to remain connected to their family and home.

John Medo: Our first student

18-year-old John Medo has blazed a few trails. The first student ever to be awarded a scholarship by The School Fund, he studied hard for 4 years to become the first TSF graduate. He’s also the first in family to attend secondary school; and John’s ambitions and accomplishments have impacted everyone around him as they, too, struggle to build a better life.

Living together in a mud hut in the hills overlooking Karatu–a town of 17,000 en route to Tanzania’s popular safari parks of Serengeti and Ngorongoro–the Medo family have seen a lot of changes in John’s lifetime. As their family grew to five children they expanded their hut from one 8×15′ room, adding a second small bedroom and a fire-pit kitchen. John’s parents, Medo and Christina, completed primary school, married in their early 20s, and (in the tradition of the local Iraqw tribe) moved onto the land left by his parents. It wasn’t much to begin with, and during tough times they’ve had to sell off small parcels, until only 1/2 acre remains. Dad, a woodworker and builder, laid the foundation next door for a solid brick 3-room house. They build it pole pole, slowly slowly, as they can scrape up the shillings needed for materials. So far, it has walls but no roof.

Matt Severson with the Medo's

The family felt enormous pride when John passed his national exams, earned a scholarship, and maintained good grades and attendance to complete high school, something neither of his 2 older siblings could do. Brother Huruma, 23, kicks himself now for not working harder in school. He failed his exams, and that gave him access only to expensive private high school–he got halfway through and quit. “Now I am too old to go to school,” he sighs. “My life is not good because I didn’t study.” Huruma does outreach work for the 16-resident Mwema Street Children Center and rents a room from his auntie in town. He dreams of building a 2-room hut on his parents’ parcel and landing a well-paying job in tourism. Sister Eliamani, 21, also failed her entrance exams for high school. She stays home and does chores for her parents. 1 1/2 years ago, Eliamani gave birth to a daughter Sarah, a bright child on whom the whole family dotes. John has never met the baby’s father, and he wonders if Eliamani will ever get a job or home of her own.

If the older two siblings feel the limitations to economic security and freedom of not having completed their education, the two younger siblings take it for granted that they will follow in John’s footsteps. Judith, 15 and going into her second year of high school this fall, has applied for a TSF scholarship. Both she and little brother Eliatosha, 13, plan to complete high school and college.

John, who resolved “when I was in primary school that no matter what, I was going to study and pass my exams,” still holds ambitions that reach the sky. “In 6 years from now, I will be finished with university and go directly to work in a good job.” He plans to attend graduate school to train as a “human doctor–not a veterinarian” or, if that does not work out, his second choice will be law school.  Either of these vocations “will build more and more my base of knowledge,” earn a good living and enable him to build a home.

John revoked his tiny inherited parcel. “It’s too small for all of us, and besides, sometimes when relatives live together, misunderstandings occur. This way, if we live in different places, then when we come together to visit we will be very happy.” Instead, he will make his own way.

John plans to take care of his family–particularly his parents–and then start one of his own. “My dream is to buy a small piece of land at the top of the hills, where you can see the whole surroundings, the town and trees and flowers. After that, I shall work hard, and wait.”  Wait for what? Well, for a dream John has held close since we met him as a young boy: “To see if it is God’s wish that I become president of Tanzania.”


Suzanne Skees, director of Skees Family Foundation, traveled with The School Fund to write about what our mission looks like as real students and teachers implement our program on the ground. Suzanne donates her time pro bono, as does the entire TSF team. Additionally, the Skees Family Foundation provided a grant to support our students’ school fees and our filmmakers’ travel expenses. She writes about organizations working to end poverty and extend equal opportunity, and blogs for the Huffington Post

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