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  • Paul Davis, Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid at the Aga Khan Academy Mombasa, with the Talent Identification students from the Class of 2018.
    AKDN / Laughters Photography
Prudence and William: Creators of destiny

Prudence Hainga from Kisumu and William Baiya from the Ganze area of rural Kenya both graduated from the Aga Khan Academy Mombasa in 2018. Both come from humble backgrounds and are the first in their families to be able to attend university abroad.

Referring to his vision for the Aga Khan Academies, His Highness the Aga Khan has explained: “I believe deeply that if developing countries are to be successful in their aim of becoming modern economies with living standards comparable to the West, we must focus not only on universal access to education for the majority or even all of the population. We must also make available educational opportunities at the top international standard for the exceptional students who stand out from the rest. The reality is that not all students are created equal intellectually. And exceptional individuals are as abundant in the developing world as anywhere else, from the cities and from the countryside. The pity is that too many in the developing world are never given the opportunity to have their minds challenged and stretched and developed to their full potential. Therefore we must strive to create institutions of learning that can help them maximise the potential to study, to learn and to function at the highest international intellectual levels.”

Paul Davis, the Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid at the Aga Khan Academy Mombasa, has enthusiastically led the Academy’s Talent Identification Programme for the past ten years. This programme identifies “creators of destiny” – students in Year 6 at government schools, from less-fortunate socio-economic and educational areas of Kenya, who are academically able and show leadership potential - and provides them with full financial support to attend the Academy. The Academy then guides and nurtures them throughout their secondary school years to become “creators of destiny” in their own lives and communities.

Paul met William, a student at Vitengeni Primary School, for the first time in 2011 while leading talent identification assessments in rural Kenya. William had already demonstrated leadership traits as a scout commander and a school prefect, and his school considered him a responsible and determined pupil. He seemed determined to work hard in life so that he could reach his goals, and his motto at that time was “front ever, back never”. William self-drive guided him through the six years at the Academy and led to him being granted a full scholarship to attend Washington and Lee University in the United States. Upon learning this, William’s father proudly said, “The Aga Khan Academy Mombasa has transformed my boy, and I am looking forward to him to come back and work for the community to repay the Aga Khan's contribution.”

The Academy’s inclusive culture was one of the factors that appealed to Paul when he first applied to lead the Talent Identification Programme. Having come from a working class background himself, he understood first-hand the importance of being able to access secondary and higher education. While Paul did have a picture in his mind of how successful the Academy’s Talent Identification Programme could be, he also spent sleepless nights thinking about the scale, importance and scope of it all. He noted, “The vision of His Highness the Aga Khan is that these students will go out and be creators of change in their own communities.” Understandably, Paul feels a significant responsibility in working to realise His Highness’ vision.

Prudence Hainga also came to the Academy through the talent identification programme led by Paul. She was awarded a prestigious MasterCard Foundation scholarship to pursue her tertiary studies in political science at the University of Edinburgh. As she left the Academy, she reflected on what this full scholarship meant to her and her community. “I want to realise my childhood dream of fighting injustice and corruption in Kenya. The Kenyan political system is majorly defined by tribalism and inequality. Therefore, learning how political systems function and what others have done to ensure sustainable development as well as spread out opportunities for their citizens, will help me to decipher ways in which I could impact change in my country’s political system and rid Kenya of tribalism and greed. I am motivated to use my knowledge as a weapon against discrimination and inequality and work for a better Kenya – a Kenya that feels like home to all.”

The young men and women who attend or have attended an Academy through the Talent Identification Programme come from humble and often less-fortunate circumstances with uncertain futures and parents often overburdened in their struggle to secure jobs, keep food on the table and educate their children. Through the Talent Identification Programme, they have been able to access education of an international standard in order to create, rather than simply endure, their destiny – thus fulfilling His Highness’ vision for maximising their potential to improve their communities and world.

This article was adapted from a piece first written for the Aga Khan Academies website. The original is here.