A journey from Kenya to Waco

Brooke Olonde
Brooke Olonde

By Brooke Bailey

A Baylor graduate student from Kenya is studying how to provide education to children on the streets in his country.

Brooke Olonde’s passion for the children of Kenya stems from his childhood experiences. Olonde grew up as an orphan in Kisumu, Kenya, and became sponsored by Compassion International at the age of 9.

“Not many children who were orphaned at an early age would get a chance like I had, so my passion is to walk with them to help them realize their potential,” Olonde said. Compassion International aims to help children in poverty by providing them with sponsors who help fund schooling, medical expenses and other needs.

“Through Compassion, I was able to go to a university in Kenya, where I did my bachelor’s in social work,” Olonde said.

Compassion also introduced Olonde to Baylor. He first traveled to the United States in 2010 as an ambassador of Compassion, where he spoke to kids at Student Life summer camps about his experience with the organization. During his visit, he met people from Baylor who later became his friends.

“When I went back home and was looking for a school to do a master’s in social work with, I think the first place I thought about was Baylor,” Olonde said.

Olonde said he decided to apply for admission to the Baylor graduate School of Social Work and a program it offers called Global Mission Leadership Initiative. Both the school and the program help students research and formulate a plan to tackle global problems.

The initiative is a two-year program that aims to strengthen and support global leaders with commitments to implement change. Students participating in the program earn their Master of Social Work simultaneously.

Students must apply to become involved with the initiative. The application and eligibility requirements are available at Global Mission Leaderhip Initiative’s website.

Jennifer Smyer Dickey, the director of the initiative, said she thinks Olonde is a great fit for the program.

“Brooke is a man of sound character and unique intelligence,” Dickey said. “From his own personal story, he has a compassion for Kenya.” Olonde said he’s incorporating what he’s learning in the social work program into his future plans.

“I’m learning what social work is in this context and translating it to Kenyan culture,” Olonde said.

Because of his experience being an orphan and the conditions of the children in Kenya, in 2008 Olonde helped create Child Rock Initiative, a program that supplies educational resources.

“Since there was a need with so many children out of school, my friends and I rented a few shanties within the slum and started teaching the children,” Olonde said.

Olonde and his friends collaborated with another organization called Mercy House to help provide desks, blackboards, chalk, textbooks and other school supplies. Mercy House aids pregnant teenagers and their children. About 300 children is the highest number of involvement with Child Rock in the program’s history.

In November 2011, the Kenyan government temporarily shut down Child Rock. The slums where children participated in Child Rock were under contention due to political interest, Olonde said. Consequently, the government demolished the slum where Child Rock was operating schoolrooms. The incident displaced several people.

“I think we were coming out of that shock that everything we had invested was gone,” Olonde said.

In response to the destruction, Child Rock volunteers relocated to another slum. When the program started again, Olonde said about 70 children participated. Olonde’s goal remains to help children have a brighter future in education. Now, he is thinking broadly.

“I’m trying to look at how we can work with the government, the parents and the communities as a whole and make sure that no child is born on the streets and lives on the streets,” Olonde said.

Olonde hopes to return to Kenya this summer to see how Child Rock is progressing. In December, Olonde will start an internship in Kenya, where he will conduct research about children in poverty.