Joel   In 2006 my New York niece, Kimberley Portis, went on a short development trip with an organized group to Kenya. The group stayed at an orphanage outside Nakuru, and taught at the local Kieni village Primary School west of the capital, Nairobi, in the Great Rift Valley.  When she returned to the US, I was interested to learn about her experience in Kenya and whether it was worth the considerable expense which she had to bear. Among other things, she told how the Kenyan Government funds a primary school education for everyone, but only those who can afford to pay the fees can go on to Secondary School. Of course, the students from the orphanage had no prospects of attending Secondary School and Kimberley allowed that “perhaps I could do something about that.” Well, I’ve always been a big proponent of education as the only practical way to allow poor folks anywhere to improve their station in life. And I’ve always felt the Western powers have taken much from Africa and have done little to prepare the local people for sensible economic development and responsible self government. So I enthusiastically “signed up” to fund a high school educational scholarship for one of the Kieni students.


When it comes to education, I believe quality counts, and I searched the internet for suitable high schools in Kenya. In the end, I opted for St. Andrew’s School at Turi which was also conveniently located about an hour and a half drive from Kieni. The School was started in the 1930’s by a missionary couple as a private Anglican primary school and added a secondary school in 1988. Now catering to over 500 multicultural students from Kenya, Uganda, and other countries across Africa, it is reputed to be the best High School in East Africa. With many expatriate and highly qualified local staff, fine academic and boarding facilities, and extensive rural grounds, the annual fees for senior students run upwards of $20,000. But you get what you pay for and I saw no reason why at least one local Kenyan student should not be able to take advantage of the best education Kenya has on offer.

I spoke to the Headmaster regarding my plan and he agreed to interview prospective candidates from Kieni Primary, but pointed out it would be a major step up from a poorly funded government primary school to a very well funded private school set up to cater for expatriate children and the children of government and business leaders. Graduates of St. Andrew’s School typically transfer to the private schools in England if their parents relocate back to the UK, or enroll in UK universities after graduating from St Andrew’s.


The Head Teacher at Kieni selected his four most talented graduating students – two girls and two boys, and St Andrew’s sent the school car across to bring them to St Andrews for entrance tests and interviews. At the completion of the process the Headmaster advised me that, while all four students were quite talented academically, he felt only one had the personality and interpersonal skills to make the transition to St Andrews and he was prepared to offer him a place at the School – and that was Joel. Joel, now nineteen, will graduate from St. Andrew’s this year with his English Cambridge “A Level” exams and has been accepted conditionally into Exeter University and Cardiff University’s Law Programmes. I’m told by Mrs Bains, an expatriate teacher from England, Joel has worked very hard during his six years at St. Andrew’s and has developed into a fine young man who is highly regarded by the staff and fellow students alike.


At the end of 2012, Mrs Bains accompanied a group of senior St Andrews’ students on a two-week cultural and educational trip to London and Wales. She wrote to me advocating for Joel’s inclusion in the tour group, pointing out she felt the experience would greatly enhance his personal development and broaden his view of the world. I agreed with her and was happy to pick up the $3,500 cost.

Joel’s inclusion in the group was a close run thing. I had for a number of years been trying to get various folks at St Andrew’s to assist Joel to get his passport but, being an orphan, Joel had sketchy government birth records and the exercise never really got off the ground. Mrs Bains, however, took up the task as part of her very determined effort to get Joel on the UK trip. She accompanied Joel to the regional capital of Nakuru and spent many hours negotiating the murky government passport process. In the end she told me the passport officer took them outside and informed them a certain “consideration” would need to be paid to him for the passport to be issued. She tells me she paid up but was distraught about the whole process, and felt her late father would roll over in his grave if he knew what she had done! More happily, she also told me Joel walked “two inches taller” as he left there with his passport in his pocket – now a man of the world!

The group’s UK visit also allowed me to meet Joel for the first time. I have not been able to visit Africa due to my impaired immune system, but I was happy to travel to London to meet Joel, Mrs Bains and the School group. Lisa, my daughter, also travelled with me, and I was anxious for her to also meet Joel. If something were to happen to me, I wanted someone else in our family to know Joel and improve the prospects for our family support of Joel continuing after my demise. Lisa continued on to Paris to meet an old school friend after our meeting.


I wrote to my brother, Lisa, and my wife Santa the day after Lisa and I were guests of the School Group for Christmas lunch at a restaurant in London’s Covent Garden area. And we in turn hosted them to a Royal Over-Seas League Christmas function – carols by the Over-Seas League choir and bible readings led by the League’s President, Lord Luce, at St James’ Church on Piccadilly. We followed up with afternoon tea back at Over-Seas House. I noticed a tear in Mrs. Bain’s eye during the beautifully sung carols – obviously a little homesick after many years in Africa.


Over-Seas House, Park Place, London


to Brian, Lisa, Santa                                                                 Dec 12, 2013

Lisa, how was the Eurostar train and how is the Hotel Design de la Sorbonne? Should I put the Hotel Design de la Sorbonne on Mummy’s and my accommodation list? Catching the Eurostar train must have been a close run thing?

Had a great afternoon with the St Andrew’s group visit to the London School of Economics – introductory talk by the young woman responsible for recruiting from Africa, guided tour of the campus by a first year student from Uganda, and a one hour sample lecture on Karl Marx by an excellent young secular lady sociology professor from Turkey. Apparently Marx said a worker was never free until he no longer was required to work for the capitalists in order to live his life. Following the lecture, I showed her an investment magazine I had and suggested the proletariat could remove themselves from that class by investing their wages in the means of production (stocks) until they could live entirely on their dividends – and so join the Bourgeoisie, the folks owning the means of production.  She didn’t seem too impressed with my suggestion and had nothing much to say on the matter – preferring, I think, revolution to take over the means of production!

Had coffee with Joel at Bella Italia on The Strand afterwards, and then retired to Over-Seas house for dinner and wide-ranging conversation. Went well.

Well, to bed – need to get up early for trip back to Toronto tomorrow am. AP


It’s interesting that while in London both Mrs. Bains and one of the students both asked me “why are you doing this for Joel?” It was not a question I had expected and my first thought was “why not?” But I did tell them I thought Western countries had taken a great deal from Africa and sowed the seeds for a lot of the chaos that ensued when they were finally forced out. And it was time for them to give something back to deserving Africans. Mrs. Bains seemed pleased with my answer and added that was why she was teaching in Africa. I wrote to Joel again on his birthday……..

Hello again, Joel

I’ve been thinking about your two most recent emails before responding regarding quite a few important matters.

First of all, HAPPY BIRTHDAY! today and welcome back to School for your final term. I think you will be nineteen now? At the prime of your life with all the big life decisions before you! But I think St Andrews has given you a very good grounding so I know you will make sensible choices for yourself.

Joel, do you have some kind of bank account attached to your phone? I would like to send you a small sum of money for your birthday and I see my local supermarket has forms to send money to Kenya via M-Pesa. Do you have an M-Pesa wallet with Safaricom? I see from the Internet you need an ID card or passport to register, which of course you now have.  You would be notified by text when the funds were placed in your account. And all I need from this end is your name you are using for Safaricom and your mobile telephone number, including country code.

I’m pleased the UK trip turned out well and I very much enjoyed my trip to London to meet you, Mrs Bains, and your student colleagues. Mrs Bains was, of course, instrumental in making the whole thing happen and we owe her a great deal for that. If I understand correctly, I think this may be her last year at St Andrew’s. If that is the case, I think it would be nice if you bought some small Kenyan artifact and presented it to her at the end of the year as a token of your appreciation of everything she has done on your behalf. I think she would like that since I know she holds you in very high regard. Perhaps I can transfer some money to you via M-Pesa to cover the cost.

I’m pleased you received the Introduction To Law book. It’ a small book of which I have a much earlier edition in my own library and found it to be most informative as an introductory text. It is written from a Canadian perspective, but is very reliant on the English Legal System.

It is good you have an offer from Exeter University. I did some research online, and it seems to be a very good school. Was their offer conditional on you achieving certain final grades? I imagine it will still be very important to do very well on your May exams. Did Cardiff University reply to your application yet?

And, finally, to the GAP year, Joel.  I’m very open to your suggestions as to the details of your GAP year, but I see two essential objectives.

1)  For you to gain some basic “on the ground” practical experience by giving  back to Kenya

2)  For you to come to Canada for a visit to see something of Toronto, Ontario, and perhaps New York and Washington, and to look at any university opportunities that might be of interest to you in Canada.

I would like for you to do some serious thinking and research into how you might give something back to Kenya for a year.  Something along the lines of John F Kennedy’s famous advice to his fellow Americans many years ago, “Ask not what your country can do for you but, rather, ask what you can do for your country.” I imagine your work would be on a volunteer basis, but I would be happy to fund your costs and living expenses as well as a small stipend for your efforts.

One thing did cross my mind, Joel, and that was your former primary school – at Kieni, I believe? Have you ever been back to the school? Is Peter still the Headmaster?  I understand there are probably many ways for the student experience to be improved – for example, teaching support, classroom supplies, basic sports equipment like soccer balls, and a little assistance to needy families to allow young children to attend school like school uniforms and supplies, etc.

Perhaps you could also help mentor some of the senior students as they prepare for secondary school and help coach some of the younger students with their reading ‘riting and ‘rithmetic. There’s lots of useful and helpful material online along the lines of the following:

Perhaps we could possibly fund two senior students to attend Nakuru High School – two who you might judge to be academically able and who would otherwise be unable to attend high school. Just as I rely on St Andrews to ensure every penny I forward them is spent for the purpose for which it is intended, I would be relying on you to ensure the same for any funds I would send you to carry out any plan you might come up with to assist Kieni primary school. I would imagine your experience there would give you a head start in formulating a plan of assistance in conjunction with the Head Master. Of course, you would have to be very sensitive to the Head Master’s standing and approach the whole thing with the idea of talking to him to find ways to directly help the students.

Anyway, Joel, these are just a few of my thoughts and I look forward to hearing your views and ideas, in due course.

With kind regards, Allan Portis.


Joel responded with the following reply, and in turn I told him we should hold off further discussing these matters until after his final exams which he should now concentrate on.

Hello, I hope you are now doing better than before. Both my family and I are fine and I hope it’s the same for you in Canada. Anyway, I’m very grateful for the reply, firstly I want to tell you thank you for the birthday wish, and as a matter of fact, yes I have an Mpesa account. 

Yes, Mrs Baines has officially informed us and the school that this will be her final year and you can only imagine how sad the students are. She has been a great teacher to all her students and will be dearly missed especially considering the great and fun times in class she had with her students and yet the amazing results she obtained year in, year out. And I’d certainly want to get her a souvenir.

With regard to my university application, I’m still deeply disappointed  that Cardiff haven’t replied to my offer but I have the satisfaction that  the deadline for this is next month, May 5th. Furthermore I’m glad to hear that Exeter is a good University and I feel that I can acquire the predicted grades the University requires for admission in A2. My final exams are nearly approaching with my first exam in about five weeks and my last in just under nine weeks.

Concerning my GAP year I’m very grateful for your proposition and find it hard to reject. I would like to give something back to Kenya and especially the local working class people. Moreover, the idea of travelling to Ontario, Toronto, Washington and New York would be very fascinating and I embrace it. New York has always been my favourite city and a destination I have wished since childhood to visit. The other cities are also great and I definitely would want to visit them especially because of the prominent Universities they offer such as University of Toronto that I regard highly. According to research it is among the twenty best universities in the world and if I had an opportunity to go there to study I certainly wouldn’t hesitate.

However, some issues arise with regard to the idea of helping the community around Kieni, but these could be resolved. Firstly I now live with my uncle in Nairobi as opposed to the orphanage in the countryside whereby I attended Kieni. The orphanage burnt down and the kids were forced to return to their homes and live with their relatives, some of whom couldn’t afford to take care of them. I was unaware of this news until recently and was very sad. Thus because I reside in Nairobi, I don’t know much about Kieni  including whom the headmaster is, whether Peter departed or he’s still in charge. But I have two aunties whom still live around the area and by visiting them I can get to visit Kieni too, and gather information regarding it. But a visit to these relatives isn’t regular, as we only get to visit them once annually, during the Christmas holidays. These are among the complications but hopefully they can be solved. Thanks once again for the book and hopefully we’ll talk soon.

Goodbye, Joel

Later, I wrote a traditional letter to Joel pending his graduation and to accompany a personal folder and pen package which I mailed him. Several books I had mailed him arrived safely at the School, so I am quite confident this will also. Time will tell.



                                                                                                                                                TORONTO, CANADA.

MAY 12, 2013.

Dear Joel,

Congratulations on graduating from St. Andrews – it’s a great accomplishment and I’m proud of you!

To mark the occasion, I’m enclosing some stationery items I hope they will be useful to you and help you present yourself in a professional manner as you start out on the next part of your life journey.

I have enclosed the small note book for a special purpose. In the financial industry we would call it a “Deal Book” – a place to permanently record all our notes chronologically regarding our various financial transactions.  I hope your “Deal Book” might be useful to you in recording significant matters and issues arising from conversations you have with people, any commitments you have made, and commitments people have made to you. It might also be useful in noting any ideas, plans, and “to do” items you develop with respect to projects you undertake.  As a student, Frank Savage, the author of a book I have also sent you under separate cover, used his journal to record his daily impressions of a development trip to Zambia, which he then used to write detailed weekly reports to the American Foundation that had sponsored him.

Savage is a successful African American businessman who is passionate about providing economic business investment to Africa.  He has spent time working in Liberia and other parts of the world and I found his autobiography, “The Savage Way” to be quite informative and inspiring. His closing advice to young folk is worth highlighting – “If I pass on anything in these pages, I wish to pass on the gleaming importance of living an honest life, one marked by compassion for others and guided by an internal compass affixed on the priceless treasure of unshakable integrity.” I hope you enjoy his story.

The columnar notebook I have also included will allow you to keep a record of all your financial transactions. It’s important for young folk to establish their financial integrity early in life and this includes recording all cash receipts and expenditures, and separating personal transactions from “business” transactions.   I’ve included an example that hopefully you might find useful in recording your financial transactions.

Joel, by the time you receive this package I imagine your examinations will be largely over, and I wish you all the best with your results.

With kind regards,

Joel achieved very good results in his British “A-LEVELS” examinations with two As and an A*, and I invited him to Toronto to look at some university opportunities. He joined us to attend the Royal Commonwealth’s Christmas Party.




I will leave the final word on the value and importance of education in the developing world to Malala Yousafzai, the young Pakistani schoolgirl shot by the Taliban: “No one can stop us. We will speak up for our rights and we will bring change through our voice. We believe in the power and the strength of our words. Our words can change the whole world. Because we are all together, united for the cause of education….So let us wage a global struggle against illiteracy, poverty and terrorism. Let us pick up our books and pens. They are our most powerful  weapons. Education is the only solution.”