An Education Well Earned
O.A.T. Travelers Ann & Jack Womeldorf Provide a Scholarship for a Struggling Student
Traveling across East Africa with O.A.T. in 2013, ten-time travelers Ann and Jack Womeldorf of Norfolk, Virginia, enjoyed a Day in the Life of the village of Amboseli in Kenya’s Amboseli National Park. The experience included a visit to the Amboseli Primary School. Travelers in their small group were invited to sit at desks with the students, and that is how the Womeldorfs met Toilan Nkonyio, an eighth grader. They learned that the nearest secondary school was 40 miles away, so Toilan would need a scholarship if he were to continue his education. Ann and Jack decided they wanted to provide it.
The O.A.T. itinerary went on to Arusha, Tanzania, and while there, the travelers happened to have lunch with Sandra Vaughan, East Africa Project Manager for Grand Circle Foundation. The Womeldorfs asked how to go about giving Toilan the scholarship he needed. “Sandra is the most astonishing, amazing, hands-on philanthropist of anybody I’ve ever seen,” says Ann. Sandra agreed to facilitate the Womeldorfs’ gift of a full scholarship for four years. Amounting to about $1,000 a year, the scholarship covered not only academics, but also incidentals such as clothing and bedding—and $1 a week to buy snacks and any personal supplies Toilan needed.
Unbeknownst to anyone, however, Toilan had a learning disability, and in rural Amboseli, there is no organization to test or help academically disadvantaged children. Toilan struggled throughout his four years in high school. He never achieved more than a D and quite often failed. The Womeldorfs were discouraged, but Sandra believed in Toilan and convinced them to continue their support.
That belief in Toilan was well rewarded. Toilan had a 100% attendance record at school and managed to pass his exams. Afterward, when Sandra bumped into him in the town of Loitokitok, Kenya, he astounded her by revealing that he had not spent a penny of his $1-a-week personal spending money, but rather had saved it all to pay for a computer course. “I can’t think of any other teenager who would have done that, from any culture,” marvels Ann. He passed that course, too, and Ann and Jack rewarded him with a laptop.
Ann notes that jobs in Amboseli are scarce, and as the 13th of 13 children, all of whom were in the family business of herding cattle, Toilan needed an education in order to find a job. “We thought that, if he had done all he did to struggle to stay in school and put himself through computer school, then maybe there was some chance he could make a living with a computer,” she says.
That, in fact, is what Toilan has done. With his skill set and his laptop, he has a part-time job in a cyber café doing computer-related tasks that come up on a daily basis, such as performing Google searches, writing emails, and updating resumes. He also volunteered in the Masai Mara National Reserve, counting wildlife for the 2019 census.
Our heartfelt thanks to the Womeldorfs and all travelers who trust us with the donations that empower us to change lives and impact communities.