By: Willow Welter. Photos by Emily Turner. Video by Jim Kallemeyn.   |   Posted: April 25, 2024

Maisha’s family couldn’t afford a safe home or education before they connected him with a global network that helped him pursue his dreams.

This Young Kenyan Built a Strong Future With a Strong Mind

Maisha’s family couldn’t afford a safe home or education before they connected him with a global network that helped him pursue his dreams.

Written by Willow Welter. Photos by Emily Turner. Video by Jim Kallemeyn.

EMBU COUNTY, KENYA — Life in rural Kenya provides many peaceful moments for Maisha. Lush hills stretch from distant mountains to his home, where often the only sounds are the wind rustling the trees, birds and insects calling, and chickens clucking as they strut by.

But the peaceful scenery belies the struggles Maisha's family has endured in rural poverty. He and his family of eight lived in a cramped home that couldn't keep out the heavy rains. Many of his early childhood memories involve illness.

"Maisha and his siblings were always getting sick," remembers his mother, Tabitha. "I had to carry them on my back for miles to take them to the hospital."

Maisha remembers those trips to the hospital. "I was seriously ill during this time. If it wasn't for my parents, I wouldn't exist because I couldn't carry myself."

Maisha's parents did all they could to support their children, but they couldn't afford a better home. Some days, they couldn't even put enough food on the table. Tabitha and her husband felt constantly burdened, knowing that they didn't have enough money to cover their son's school fees.

A Powerful Community

Despite their hardships, the family found joy in their faith. They belonged to a community of believers at a nearby church. One day, they learned that their church had partnered with Compassion to provide a development program for children living in poverty.

"I was the first child to get registered at that church," remembers Maisha.

Beyond learning that he would be paired with a sponsor, Maisha wasn't sure what to expect from the program at first. "I thought that Compassion could only help us get something to eat," Maisha says. And although the church did give them food, Maisha's family soon realized they would receive much more — and deeper — support.

Maisha with his mother, Tabitha.
Maisha with his mother, Tabitha.

First, their church addressed Maisha's immediate physical needs by giving the family food staples like rice and flour. Then they addressed Maisha's health problems with a medical exam. Of all the changes the family was experiencing, one was especially meaningful to Tabitha: Her son could now go to school. With his basic physical needs met, he could now focus on developing his mind.

Maisha received extra tutoring at the Compassion center at his church, where he began spending every Saturday. Some days rain would flood the bridge leading to the church, and Maisha's father would carry him on his back over the river. Just as his mother had carried him to the hospital to strengthen his body with medicine, Maisha's father carried him to the Compassion center to strengthen his mind with education.

Soon, Maisha's church connected him with a sponsor: Kevin and Kristy’s family in Illinois. Their son Ethan chose to sponsor Maisha, who was about his age, and Ethan worked to raise money to help support his new friend in Kenya.

The family that sponsored Maisha, from left: Caleb, Kristy, Ethan, Kevin, Levi and Muskan.
The family that sponsored Maisha, from left: Caleb, Kristy, Ethan, Kevin, Levi and Muskan.

"Even just giving a small portion of what I earned mowing lawns or doing odd jobs as a kid, I still understood how much that could make a difference in his life," recalls Ethan, now 21.

Ethan and his family exchanged letters with Maisha, and they were thrilled at the chance to meet him in person. When they visited Kenya and saw the condition of Maisha's home, they were moved to give a financial gift to his family. Maisha's church worked with him and his parents to decide how to best use the gift.

First, a new home was built — one with more space that would keep the rain out and allow Maisha to focus on his studies rather than falling sick all the time. Then there was enough money left over to buy three cows and a plow for their farm.

Prioritizing Education

Although life had improved in so many ways, it wasn't perfect. As Maisha's younger brothers reached school age, their parents couldn't afford their school fees.

Overall, school enrollment in Kenya has increased in recent years. Nearly all Kenyan children are now enrolled in primary school, and most attend secondary school. But education outcomes are much lower for students like Maisha who live in rural areas than for those in cities. UNICEF says that's because many rural residents place less value on traditional education, have longer distances to travel to school and are more likely to marry as children.

In contrast to some rural Kenyans, Maisha's parents place a high value on education. So much so that they sold their cows so that all their children could go to school. It was a difficult decision, but Maisha's parents knew how important education was for their children's future.

"If Maisha would not have been taken in by Compassion, my life would have been very difficult because I was not able to send all the children to school," Tabitha says.

A strong team of support — including Compassion center tutors and Maisha's sponsors — championed his family in developing his strong mind.

Finding His Path

Maisha worked hard in high school. He studied and sought help from the tutors at his center. But even though he had big dreams for his future, he began to struggle with academics. At the same time, he grew more interested in working with his hands.

He was still diligently attending his Compassion center, where he and other teenagers received training in vocational skills like computer literacy, farming and handicraft-making.

Maisha received love and education from Nalus and other staff at his Compassion center.
Maisha received love and education from Nalus and other staff at his Compassion center.

"It was in secondary school that I realized I wanted to become a mason," Maisha says. "I wanted to study construction and mechanics. But also I wanted to learn masonry so I could help my family build their own houses. I wanted to support them."

Knowing that Maisha was struggling in a traditional classroom setting, the staff at his center began supporting his dream of becoming a mason. "Because he was not doing well in academics, we encouraged and we nurtured him to start his career of his choice," says Safina, director of Maisha's Compassion center.

She says that in Maisha's region, there are very few job opportunities. "But when you have a skill, you earn for yourself. You earn for a living. You are assisting the community. You are assisting the family. You also assist yourself. … That's why we are helping the community and the youths to nurture their skills that they want."

Realizing that masonry would be a practical tool in his community, Maisha made the choice to leave traditional high school and enroll in a technical school. Compassion's program helped cover his tuition as he pursued this new educational path.

"We say 'education is power,'" says Chrispus, a teacher and leader in Maisha's church and community. "So when you get educated, you'll be able to mature, to graduate and get a job. ... Without education, it can be very difficult even to do farming at home because you need to know what you are supposed to use. So it is the most important in this area and in Kenya."

Maisha outside one of the homes he built.
Maisha outside one of the homes he built.

Built on a Strong Foundation

Maisha has since graduated from Compassion's program and from technical school. He has built himself a house near his family's house, as well as homes for other relatives and community members. He's earning an income doing what he feels called to do.

His sponsors were able to visit him a second time to see what Maisha had done with the help of their gift. They were impressed by the quality of the home and encouraged to see that Maisha has begun a career as a mason.

Looking around Maisha's neighborhood — where he had built several homes as a professional mason — Kristy says it struck her that when her family sponsored this one child, they helped to impact a whole family. And Maisha has found a sense of accomplishment in using his skills to serve his family and his community.

"Looking ahead, I want to help my community build more houses," he says. "I will help my community as much as I can. They can pay an affordable price, and I can build them a house."

To give back to the church that supported him during his family's toughest days, the young businessman also volunteers as a Sunday school teacher.

His involvement with the church encourages his sponsor, Ethan. Thinking about his hopes for Maisha's future, Ethan says, "I just hope that he continues with his walk in Christ. I know that he's becoming a leader in the church too. I think that's really exciting."


Life still has its challenges in Maisha's rural community. Residents get most of their water from a river, which sometimes dries up. There's no electricity, so people use candles. When Maisha has the money, he buys solar batteries, and he hopes that someday the village has electricity.

But Maisha works hard, and he has the unconditional support of his family, church and sponsors. So he's equipped with something far more powerful than hardship: a strong mind. He's an educated, hardworking man who's dedicated to building up his community.

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