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Community Initiatives Program

Local woman offers scholarships to African students

By CARL HAHN
Red Deer Advocate - March 1, 2006
Originally published in Central Alberta LIFE January 26, 2006

For Pam Amulaku it truly was a crossroads.

The young woman (known then as Pam Lutz) who grew up on a farm near Innisfail had been longing to travel, so when Canadian Crossroads
International gave her the opportunity to fly away in 2001, she leapt on it. With a social work degree in hand, she accepted whatever destination the youth organization would provide.

"Within two weeks of graduating . . . I was off to Botswana," she recalls.
"I hadn't travelled much at all before."

After four months teaching secondary school students about health awareness, Amulaku found a new perspective and a new passion.

"I knew that I wanted to go back to Africa immediately. As soon as the plane touched the ground in Calgary I was ready to get on a plane back."

She spent most of the last three years there. After finally returning to
Central Alberta last summer she co-founded a registered charity, Helping
Youth Through Educational Scholarships (HYTES).

Along with two Calgary couples, she and her husband Eric Amulaku provide scholarships to youths in Kenya and Tanzania to pay tuition for secondary school.

This month HYTES gave its first scholarships to three youths in Kenya.

"We don't have a lot of money right now, since we just started," she says.

Amulaku was interested in helping others before she started her studies in social work, but the trip to Botswana showed her more help was needed than she could have imagined.

Rural Botswana was a tremendously different life from rural Alberta. Some of the starkest differences were how devastating AIDS had been to the young adult population, and how few people could afford public education.

United Nations statistics from 2003 state only 30 per cent of eligible
students attend secondary school (high school) in Kenya, and a mere five per cent in Tanzania, the neighbouring country to the south.

Amulaku's second stint in Africa was volunteering for nine months with the Kenya Scouts Association. Scouts is closely tied to school programs in Kenya, and is another source of health education for youth.

"You can even earn a badge about reproductive health."

Amulaku focused her attention on grass roots work after becoming
disillusioned at the corruption in the upper administration of Scouts. It
was a picture typical of developing African nations.

"We didn't realize until about four months in that there was this massive
corruption going on within (Scouts) headquarters," she recalls.

"On the ground in scouting, a lot of good things were happening in spite of the struggles and politics that were going on."

That's also where she met her husband. Eric is an assistant area
commissioner with Scouts.

Eventually the program ran out, however, but Amulaku didn't give up on
Africa. Following a tip from Canadian friend Amy Brathwaite, she enrolled in a master's program in Denmark. It allowed her to intern and write her thesis in any developing nation. She arranged to work with the Red Cross in Kenya, from September 2004 to June 2005.

After so long in Kenya she understood how difficult it is for children to
get an education. After president Mwai Kibaki was elected in 2002, free
primary education was offered to all children, but that only provides the
equivalent of a Grade 8 education.

"But that won't get them a job."

Secondary education still remains beyond the means of most families, Amulaku says. The government is attempting to regulate tuition fees, but some schools charge elite tuitions like private schools, on the justification
that many of their graduates find work.

"It's become almost a profit-making venture for some of the administration people."

But it was a friend from Calgary who decided to take matters into his own hands.

Brathwaite's cousin Janet Pliszka and her husband Harold made a trip to
Africa to visit Brathwaite in Tanzania and the Amulakus in Kenya. The
Amulakus took them to Kibera, the largest slum in Nairobi, where more than half a million people live in utter poverty. Harold was so moved that after returning to Calgary he started the HYTES program.

"He spearheaded this organization," Amulaku says.

Their neighbours Scott Muzychka and Jacqueline Ford joined the effort as well, and started raising funds last summer. The group applied for
charitable status and received a registration number in November.

For now Eric is delivering the scholarships in Nairobi while he awaits
landed immigrant status in Canada. He gathers together the school
headmaster, family members, teachers and anyone else involved to sign a contract, to ensure the money goes to tuition and no more hidden fees will appear.

They need someone trustworthy in the receiving country, because corruption is still so widespread, and $600 Cdn is a lot of money.

"We don't want to be terribly cynical, but we're even a bit worried about
transferring the money directly to somebody's parents, or directly to the
school without having a representative be there," Amulaku says.
"Understandably, it's kind of an enticing thing."

Eric is training another man to take over after he joins his wife in Canada. Joseph Kamau just finished high school in October, with the financial and moral support of the Amulakus.

The money committed to the three students so far will be enough to get them through the school year, which starts in January and runs until October or November in Kenya.

"We're going to grow every year, so we will be able to continue to sponsor the students we already have until they graduate," Amulaku says.

For more information on Helping Youth Through Educational Scholarships, check the website at www.hytes.org.

Article obtained and posted with permission of the author.

"Every day, one in five of the world's population - some 800 million people - go hungry."
- Jessica Williams