A small act changed Chris Mburu’s life.
Hilde Back, a holocaust survivor living in Sweden, decided to sponsor the education of a student in Kenya in the 1970’s, not realizing that this small act would one day make her the matriarch head of a group striving to make education a human right.
In Kenya, education is only guaranteed through primary school, at which point students have to test into secondary school and be able to afford the fees to attend boarding schools, which total about $500 a year.
Hilde Back sponsored Mburu’s education which led him away from Mitahato Village in Githunguri Kiambu to secondary school, then to the University of Nairobi, and on to Harvard Law School. From there he started working with the United Nations, where he now works as a Senior Human Rights Advisor. He credits it all to Hilde Back. In gratitude for the small act that changed his life, he started the Hilde Back Education fund, as a “give-back gesture” to the community.
“It’s the same cycle of support,” Mburu said. “Hilde did it for me and I’m doing it for… several other children. We want to keep this going,” Mburu said. “Kids should not depend on the generosity of a Hilde Back or a Chris Mburu. Children should get this support from their governments. Because education is not a charitable business, it’s a right to which all the children are entitled.”
This past week, Mburu told his story and the story of the Hilde Back Education Foundation throughout the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District, including a morning run at Port Graham School and a screening of the documentary detailing his story at Kenai Central High School on Thursday, followed by a visit to Ninilchik and Razdolna schools on Friday.
Joining Mburu in his journey to spread the message that “Education is a human right,” was Patrick Kimani, a student sponsored by the Hilde Back Education Fund who now attends college in Seattle and will be graduating with a degree in communications next year.
“I just don’t talk about the benefits of this foundation and the good work that this foundation has done,” Mburu told a group at KCHS before introducing Kimani. “Basically I am able to do the same thing that Hilde did for me. Now I was very happy to be the Hilde Back. I was the Hilde Back for Kimani and he was chosen out of a list of needy kids who showed promise.”
Kimani is among the many children that is supported through Mburu’s foundation and was featured in the documentary film “A Small Act,” directed by Jennifer Arnold and released in 2010.
“Growing up I never thought I’d be in a plane, the only place that I saw planes was when I was picking coffee in Kenya,” Kimani said. Now, he said, he gets to experience so much thanks to the Hilde Back Education Foundation, including the small plane it takes to get to Port Graham.
“My opportunities are just endless and I’m so thankful for that, and I’m here because of a small act that was done by Hilde, replicated by Chris,” Kimani said.
Kimani also took a moment before the film screening to speak directly to students, highlighting the importance of education.
“Sometimes it’s hard for us to comprehend how important education can be, but I’m here to tell you and show you that if you believe and if you hold on to the opportunities that education lay in front of you, things happen,” Kimani said.
“I felt like it was important to allow the students here in such a small village to see that the world really is big,” said Laura Murphy, a teacher at Razdolna. “And that people really do exist in other countries and not just in books, and to see that one small act of goodness can create a change in their own lives and their village.”
Mburu and Kimani’s trip throughout the school district was sponsored by Project GRAD Kenai Peninsula, a non-profit school improvement, college access and student enrichment program that aims to ensure Alaskan students are prepared to excel.
In Razdolna, the students were also able to watch the film after talking with Mburu and Kimani, opening up deeper discussions about education resources in the west versus in Kenya, leading to the realization that the school has a pile of unused books.
“We’ve looked into providing a flock of chicks or a share of water buffalo,” Murphy said. “And then I think it would be wonderful, if it would be needed, to send the books. I think the kids would be all about sending old things, that are old to us, but new to other people.”
It may not be much, but it would be a small act.