Your Excellency, the President of the Republic of Kenya, The Honorable Uhuru Kenyatta, Cabinet Secretary for Education, Professor Jacob Kaimenyi, Chairman of Equity Bank, Mr. Peter Munga, Equity Bank Group Managing Director and CEO, Mr. James Mwangi, Equity Group Foundation Managing Director, Dr. Helen Gichohi, President and CEO of the MasterCard Foundation, Ms. Reeta Roy, Diplomatic colleagues, Wings to Fly Scholars, Hamjambo Mabibi na Mabwana! Habari zenu!
It is a privilege and an honor to be here with you today to celebrate the commissioning of 2,000 new Wings to Fly scholars. I am pleased to join our partners Equity Group Foundation, MasterCard Foundation, UKaid, and KfW – who, together with the United States, are supporting this scholarship program. Our continued partnership helps ensure that the children of Kenya have the education they need to be the leaders of tomorrow.
To the students, the young men and women here today, first I want to say “hongera.” I would also like to congratulate the parents, teachers and mentors who helped you and provided support along the way. You are here because we recognize the great potential that each and every one of you has to make a difference in this world. Your academic success is impressive, all the more so because you have overcome great hardship to achieve it. The education that you will receive will enrich your lives and provide you with the skills that you need to become leaders in Kenya – the leaders of industry, of civil society, and of government. Nelson Mandela, one of the truly great men of history, once said: “Education is the great engine of personal development. It is through education that the daughter of a peasant can become a doctor, that the son of a mineworker can become the head of the mine, that a child of farmworkers can become the president of a great nation. It is what we make out of what we have, not what we are given, that separates one person from another.”
You are now embarked on a great journey. The course you chart will shape your life. But even more importantly, it will chart the future of Kenya. Through hard work, determination and commitment, you can succeed… both for yourself and for Kenya.
This year is, of course, the 50th anniversary of Kenya’s independence. It is an opportunity for all of us to reflect on the impressive progress your country has made. But it is also an opportunity to consider the future. And it is an opportunity for each of you to commit yourselves to your education, to commit to becoming the doctors, politicians, business people, social workers, and scientists who make Kenya’s hope of a bright tomorrow, the hope expressed in Vision 2030, a reality. Education is the road to that tomorrow.
As you journey down that road, know this. You are not alone. I know your family, friends, businesses such as Equity Bank, the government of Kenya, so many people across this great nation are with you. So, too, are the government and people of the United States. We believe in the possibility and potential of Kenya’s young people. We believe in you. Helping Kenya’s students is a fundamental part of the partnership between our two countries.
For more than 50 years, the United States has been committed to education in Kenya. It began with the great Kennedy airlift even before Kenya’s independence.
That airlift gave promising young Kenyans the opportunity to study in the United States. The commitment we made then continues today. For Wings to Fly, the United States has already provided more than $27 million – over 2.3 billion Kenya shillings – to fund the studies of 3100 young Kenyans. We will fund new scholarships in the near future.
Beyond Wings to Fly, we are working with the Ministry of Education to support improvements in primary education. Over the next five years, the United States, working with our partners at UKAid, will invest $50 million – over four billion Kenya shillings – to improve the essential reading skills of Kenya’s children. Across Kenya, 5.4 million students in 28,000 formal and informal schools will benefit. We will assist the Ministry to refine reading instruction, distribute books and other materials, train teachers, and build a system to assess the progress students are making.
And that’s not all. Just last year, President Obama launched the Young African Leaders Initiative (or YALI) to support young Africans who are working to spur growth, strengthen democracy, and build peace and security across Africa. This year, 50 of these YALI fellows, who are just a little older than yourselves, will come from Kenya. They will receive leadership training in the United States and we will continue to invest in their professional development on their return. In a few years, I hope that some of you will apply to become a YALI fellow. Your study in the Wings to Fly program is a promising first step toward that possibility.
In conclusion, I want to thank again the many partners and supporters of Wings to Fly. To the Government of Kenya, Equity Bank, MasterCard Foundation, international partners and so many others: the United States government and the American people are proud to be your partner. We are proud of the achievements of Wings to Fly. We are proud to have changed for the better the lives of so many young people. Wings to Fly proves that together, we can make a difference. Together, we can make the world a better place.