Growing up in Nairobi, Kenya, Lakeland College junior Emmaculate Dika endured a tough childhood.
When she was 7, her grandmother, whose home Emmaculate lived in with her mom and siblings, died. Just a year later, Emmaculate's mom passed away. With Emmaculate's father out of the picture, an aunt took her in. Money was scarce and living quarters were tight.
"It was hard," Emmaculate says today, as tears stream down her cheeks. "Sometimes I lost hope that I would ever get an opportunity. My main dream was to go to a university but my aunt told me we can't afford it. I just kept working to get good grades."
Then Emmaculate heard about the Zawadi Africa Education Fund, and her life changed forever.
"When the office called me and told me I had been chosen for the program, it was so awesome," Emmaculate recalls with a big smile. "It was the best moment of my life – the moment my dreams came true."
The Zawadi Africa Education Fund is supported by about 60 colleges and universities worldwide, including Lakeland College, near Sheboygan, Wis. The goal is to finance the undergraduate education of young, academically strong but impoverished East African women. After graduation, these women return to their home continent and become positive role models for young girls.
These days, Emmaculate is an intelligent 23-year-old with a ready smile and a comfortable demeanor. Majoring in international business with a minor in economics, she'd like to someday start her own company back home – in addition to opening a group home for children. At Lakeland, Emmaculate serves as a math tutor, saying, "It's a small way of giving back."
She hasn't been home since arriving at Lakeland three years ago, but while she misses Kenya, she likes it here. When she reflects on her past, emotions bubble to the surface. Yet she's at ease with her journey.
"My life has taught me to be courageous," she says. "Living without parents makes you strong. I think in a confident way, and I believe everything that happened to me when I was young molded me into the person I am now."