How Geoffrey Atulo beat the odds from a poor background in Mumias to the U.S
Children from poorer families in Kenya and the region, in general, struggle to get access to good schools, with barely adequate learning materials. And so they remain behind their more affluent peers in terms of literacy and language development, which condemns them to not-so-bright futures.
This could easily have been the story of young Geoffrey Atulo, but he went against all odds to score top marks in his KCPE, which then opened him and his community up to a world of opportunities.
Geoffrey, who comes from an impoverished rural village in Mumias, Western Kenya, just started at Bowdoin College in the USA. This is his story.
While living with his grandmother at their rural home in Western Kenya, Geoffrey attended a local school from Class 3 to Class 5 and used to walk to and fro every day, most times on an empty stomach.
“It was terrible for me. There were frequent teacher strikes and lack of enough learning materials. My grandmother didn’t have enough money to feed me or buy me books, and I had to use what was there. I was forced to stay at home most of the time and do chores around the house,” recalls Geoffrey.
One day, his uncle visited and decided to move with him to Naivasha where he was enrolled into Bridge International Academy in Karagita; which promised a new approach to teaching and learning. This, as he says, was his turning point as the education he received at the institution changed his life completely.
“I remember vividly, after I was admitted, the first day I took an interview exam to gauge the depth of my knowledge. I didn’t do quite well in Mathematics, I got 30%, which is terrible. But after a short time of learning, I started feeling the impact of how they taught at the school,” he says.
“Teachers cared and the way they taught was exciting and fun. At Bridge, if they teach you something, they check you have understood. They made it practical, not just conceptual. I started improving in Mathematics and other subjects.”
Geoffrey, through hard work and determination, caught up fast with the other learners and soon started excelling. In 2015, he scored 401 out of the possible 500 marks in his Kenya Certificate of Primary Education (KCPE) and won a four-year scholarship to study at St. Andrews School in Florida, USA.
And so the young Geoffrey packed his bags and set out for the longest journey he had ever been on. Before that day, Geoffrey had never been on a plane; now he was not just leaving the place he called home, he was leaving the country and the entire continent for a far away land, away from anybody he ever knew.
“There is no doubt that stepping onto that plane at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA) was one of the most exciting and, at the same time, frightening moments of my life,” says Geoffrey.
“Starting life in a new country far away from home is one of the most challenging periods I have gone through but also remains one of the most rewarding. I felt alone and isolated at the beginning and struggled to adjust to a new way of life, but eventually settled down well. In the end, I wouldn’t be me. This opportunity continues to be one of my most life-defining experience.”
St. Andrews was a life changing experience for Geoffrey. Not only did he consider the academics fantastic, but the unique and welcoming community he walked into was such a special feeling for him that he says he fell in love with the institution on the first day he reported.
“St. Andrew’s is absolutely incredible. The culture of kindness and ethos is something that simply cannot be found anywhere else,” he says.
Four years after completing school in Florida, Geoffrey started applying for admission into U.S Universities. He graduated in May and in September this year, he was admitted to Bowdoin College; something he says seemed like an unattainable dream to him.
“I have thought about it. If I hadn’t gone to Bridge, I wouldn’t be the person I am today. Prior to joining Bridge, I couldn’t have had the hope of passing the KCPE exams. There was no hope of passing because I wasn’t learning,” says Geoffrey.
“At Bridge, that joy in being a learner was quite intriguing. I remember back then I would say I had a dream of becoming a doctor. I used to be told by my cousins that boy, you’re going to be a doctor – but they would scoff, because the education was not that sharp. I would wonder why they were saying that. But things change, now I am pursuing my dream.”
Geoffrey is finally living his dream and now wants to become a doctor in the field of medical research; a field that fascinates him. With the classes that he is taking now, he believes that he is on the right track.
“After college, I want to go to a graduate school and continue pursuing my dream in medical research, and help make the world a better place. Given the context of the pandemic right now, I believe that the world needs the kind of individuals who can help keep future pandemics at bay,” says a confident Geoffrey.
Looking back at his journey, Geoffrey has mixed feelings.
“My journey here has been quite interesting, and very difficult too…economic hardships back at home, the hard work, and the toil. Being in the US has exposed me to a lot of worldviews. It has taught me how to be open minded about things, and be open to learning. I have learned how to learn, and I am still learning. Learning is a process. The sad thing is that I am lucky. There are millions of children in Kenya who have dreams like me, who are able to learn like I did but they didn’t and don’t have the opportunity. They are still in the overcrowded schools with no learning materials that I started my journey in,” says Geoffrey.
“To all the students, just study. Work hard. Bottom line of everything is hard work. Nothing comes easy. You have to do what you have to do to succeed. It is tough. It is not easy, but it is possible. You have to work hard for everything you want.”
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