Originally published in the Manchester Journal on July 26, 2017

DORSET — Caroline Kashinin Senteu knows the importance of education first hand, and she wants the world to know.

Senteu, currently a Mandela Washington Fellow, spoke at the Dorset Church following Sunday’s service to share her story and encourage the audience to support the equal education of girls and boys worldwide.

“I’d just like to tell the community how important this is,” said Senteu. “Education makes the world global.”

Senteu was invited to speak by her friend Sarah Hadden, a Manchester resident who founded the nonprofit Kura Project in 2011 in the interest of improving the lives of children in rural northern Kenya. Though Senteu is from southern Kenya, the student met Hadden in 2010 through another nonprofit, the Maasai Girls Education fund.

“I became very close with Caroline, and we’ve had a bond ever since over the importance of education and the power of education,” said Hadden. “I have had the absolute honor to observe her journey through education.”

In sharing her story, Senteu also emphasized the important role that her faith has played in her journey.

“When I was growing up as a child I was introduced to church by a friend of mine, and I felt so whole. That wholeness and that hope is what made me persevere through so many things,” said Senteu. “I am so thankful to this church and this pastor to allow me to speak in a place that has always given me hope.”

In Senteu’s culture, girls are generally not given the same opportunities to education as boys. As a child, she recalls watching her brothers leave every morning and her decision to follow them. When she realized that they were given the chance to learn, she fought for her own right to an education.

“As I was a little child I had this determination to work hard to please my parents, to please my dad, to make him feel like I was worthy of the opportunity to go to school,” said Senteu. “That determination led me to be the top child in my class. It was a tiny piece of me telling me that my father needed to know that I deserved this.”

Senteu was sponsored by foreign donors throughout primary school, though they had never met. When she finished high school, however, scholarship funds became scarce. Even for a woman with a high school diploma, her opportunities were limited.

“I had already tasted how sweet education was, and I didn’t want to give up yet,” said Senteu. “My worst nightmare is waking up one morning and finding a man bringing five cows so that he could take me and marry me.”

For women in many areas of the world, marriage more closely resembles ownership rather than partnership.

“That is one thing that people who are privileged don’t know; they don’t know the pain of being a slave,” said Senteu. “I saw my mother be a slave all her life; waking up at 5 a.m., taking care of the goats and the cows, taking care of the children, taking care of my father. But she never owned anything she didn’t have the right to anything.”

When Senteu wondered how women like herself could gain that right, the answer came easily.

“It is only through education,” said Senteu. “Education is the only power and the only key that unlocked the door to my freedom.”

For as long as she could remember, Senteu had aspired to become a doctor and return to care for her community. It was the Maasai Girls Education fund that transformed that dream into reality.

The student went on to earn her Bachelor’s degree in Nursing from Kenya Methodist University, and plans to open a maternal, neonatal, and child health hospital in her hometown after completing medical school.

“I would never have been a Mandela fellow if it was not for education,” said Senteu. “I have this strong conviction in my heart that education can make the world one global community.”

Senteu is five weeks into her six week fellowship, a program of the Young African Leaders Initiative, through which she has been studying at Syracuse University.

“Caroline is the epitome of perseverance and determination,” said Hadden. “It just goes to show that through giving girls a chance their dreams can come true.”

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