A Story Worth Telling

Profile: Benedetta Mwongeli Kyengo

By Klementina Ristovska

Last semester, UCU students and staff circulated on Fcaebook a link to an online fundraiser for the study costs of a young Kenyan woman. Awarded a full UCU scholarship, she was halfway to reaching her dream of studying at UCU. Several thousand euros were still missing. After months of tough fight, suspense and many ups and downs, Benedetta Kyengo (Bena) has proudly joined the class of 2015.

A few minutes into talking to Bena you can already sense she is a smart person with a remarkably calm and positive disposition. You might spot her in your Intro to Anthropology class, or in Dining Hall where she often sits with a different group as she likes chatting with new people. For two months now, Bena has been adjusting to the new environment, combating academic challenges and befriending people from in and outside campus.

Born in a Nairobi slum, Bena grew up witnessing the severe problems of her community and was personally affected. “Once, I lost seven of my friends at a go, in a couple of hours. It was a very, very hard year for me.” Upon completing Polytechnic school in another city, Bena returned to her slum determined to take action to help her community in one way or another.

Community service involvement wasn’t easy. In setting up projects, she had to struggle against corruption and local attempts for sabotaging her work. Still, Bena came out as a winner. She motivated a group of friends to help her and founded her own community NGO.  For years now, they have been supporting children with school tasks, giving them also a chance to socialize and develop their talents.  “Initially we started with seven people and now we have a total of seventy [members] including the kids,” says Bena.

Bena’s NGO, Mukuru Talent Development, is one of the organizations providing internships for participants in the UCU in Africa program. This is how she heard of UCU. Former UCU professor and founder of the UCU in Africa program, Dr. Caroline Archambault has helped Bena a lot.

Two UCU alumni, Julie Arend, currently working in her organization, and Anne Huisman helped to mentally prepare Bena for the UCU challenges and what to expect here. “The only thing that still surprised me was the bikes,” says Bena laughingly. “There are so many [of them]!”

She likes her classes, but mostly struggles with essay writing. Usually she is advised to ask questions, but she feels lost on that. “If I don’t know that a key [serves] for opening a door, I cannot ask: is this key for this door,” says Bena. But she certainly has grasped the situation well and seems very determined to improve.

Socially, Bena, 28-year-old and a mother of two, has not only managed to fit in well here, but she already has many good friends. She is not the person to have one close friend. “Many students here are very young and suffocating somebody with all your problems can be annoying,” says Bena. “Sometimes, I need an adult to talk to and then I go to Lonia or friends from outside [campus].”

For the near future, she only has two plans: to study hard and to find a job. She misses her real family and her family at the organization a lot. Yet, Bena seems to have gained a real UCU mindset: “For the moment, I have to focus on my education,” she says.

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