Monday, June 1, 2015

Wanjiru Kamau: 1st Life - Immigrant & Educator, 2nd Life - Benefactor-African Diaspora

Wanjiru Kamau is an example of using one's education to benefit others.
Wanjiru Kamau remembers only too well her first trip to an American grocery store as a newly planted 20-year old exchange student in Oregon.  Her village in rural Kenya had no electricity or running water and her family farmed in order to eat.  But Wanjiru's mother knew the importance of an education, which is how she found herself in this strange new country.  Wanjiru earned her degrees at San Jose State University and Penn State and then went home to Kenya to raise her family and teach at the University of Nairobi. 

But education was her passion and with her children grown and flown, she eventually returned to Penn State to earn her Ph.D. and stayed on as an adjunct professor and university administrator.  That's when Wanjiru became acutely aware of the struggles of African immigrants - many of them asylum seekers - who started pouring into this country in the 1990's.  They were penniless, traumatized by war and grieving lost family members yet expected to quickly adapt despite wide cultural and communication differences.  So at 59 she quit her job, moved to Washington DC and took $10,000 in savings to start the African Immigrant and Refugee Foundation (AIRF).  AIRF has smoothed the transition of thousands of refugees from all over Africa in a multitude of ways and has provided cultural training to educators from all over the United States.  This is why Wanjiru won Encore's Purpose Prize in 2011, an award for individuals over 60 creating social impact that benefits society.  She firmly believes, “This is why I was educated, to give back.  If not me, who else?”  



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