Better School, Bigger Ambitions
08-28-2018 02:08pm

Better School, Bigger Ambitions

Harvard University sophomore Tanisha Mugwimi has brought her can-do spirit to Kenya, revitalizing her father’s worn-down former school.

When Tanisha Mugwimi was about ten years old, she traveled with her parents to their native Kenya. They visited the sentimental sights of her father’s childhood, but when they arrived at his old primary school, his mood soured. The crumbling school was in disrepair, almost unrecognizable, from rotting desks to shattered windows. Seeing the sadness and frustration in his face, Mugwimi knew—even at such a young age—that she had to take action: “I just felt that I should, and I could. If I can, why not?”

As a teenager, Mugwimi created the Githure Primary School Restoration Project to revitalize the school. Its goals: To install new windows, doors, and a new cement floor; to paint the dreary walls; and to purchase new desks and chairs made by local carpenters. Mugwimi was in the United States for the majority of the project, so she had to overcome communication challenges and cultural gaps. Her father’s familiarity with the community was essential for completing the project.

“He was my biggest supporter,” she says. “In places like that, projects usually disintegrate or just evaporate overnight because people stop caring about them or get preoccupied with other things.”

Thanks to Mugwimi’s unwavering focus, three classrooms have been renovated since 2016. She’s now working to build a computer lab to boost students’ technological skills, and has already started securing computers for the project.

Mugwimi’s existing inclinations to see and act on opportunities for positive change have been bolstered by the UNCF/Koch Scholars summit, which she attended in 2018. The UNCF/Koch Scholars program has been a vital resource for this young entrepreneur, not only teaching introductory business skills, but connecting her to other established entrepreneurs. Antong Lucky, a speaker at the 2018 summit, has been an influential source of inspiration for Mugwimi. The founder and former leader of the Dallas 415 Bloods gang, Lucky now works with Urban Specialists to reduce gang violence and increase community opportunities in south Dallas.

“Just hearing stories like that inspired me to see how principled entrepreneurship could work in today’s business environment,” says Williams.

Mugwimi plans to use that knowledge once she graduates and attends law school. “I want to open up my own law firm and help the disadvantaged,” she says. “I think oftentimes people don’t really know how the law works for them, so I want to open a firm that could really empower people through the law.”

For Mugwimi, her passion for helping others is powered by the positive relationships in her own life, which have propelled her accomplishments and ambitions. “I would not have anything without the help of someone else, whether it’s my parents, my family, my friends, or my church,” she says. “I think people are the product of the opportunities and the circumstances that are around them, and also their own individual drive.”

Education is essential for providing those opportunities, a belief instilled in her by her parents, who came to the United States from Kenya in the 1990’s to give their family a better life. “It was always my responsibility to take advantage of those [educational] opportunities,” she says. “In every school or in every class I’d try to make the most of it.”

The possibilities resulting from education are limitless, she believes. “You never know where the next Steve Jobs or Bill Gates is,” she says. “They could be stuck in a village in Kenya. So helping everyone around the world reach their full potential inevitably affects the entire human race.”

Since 2014, the Charles Koch Foundation has partnered with the UNCF and Koch Industries to offer African-American students financial assistance, academic and professional mentoring, and networking opportunities. What sets the scholarship apart is its focus on Principled Entrepreneurship, which can create positive change to both individuals and society. Learn more about the program.

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