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Sunday, December 7, 2014

OLGA MARLIN | June 13–Arrives Nairobi, 1960 (Updated Feb. 29, 2016)

L to R: Olga Emily Marlin, Ervin Ross ("Spike") Marlin, Tere Temes
 and Marlene Sousa. Spike, 51, paid a surprise visit to Olga,
26, in July 1960. He was working with the U.N. Office of the
High Commissioner for Refugees.
My sister Olga went to Nairobi in 1960 to help start an interracial school for girls.

As I update this post, that is 56 years ago. It was not so long after the uprising in 1950-1954 of the rebel Mau-Mau, who were fighting for independence from Britain.

The former Belgian Congo was to become independent on June 30 barely two weeks after Olga arrived.

The transition turned out to be accompanied by widespread violence in the Congo, initiated by both incoming and outgoing leaders.

Independence for Kenya was in the offing and seeing the difficult transition in the Congo, some worried European teachers were making plans to leave Kenya, as Olga describes in her memoir (To Africa with a Dream, 2011, 84). Olga stayed and after Kenya became independent she became a Kenyan citizen.

Olga and seven other European women arrived in Nairobi in two waves to create a new school for girls:
  • Group 1 (five brave women) left June 12 from Rome to Nairobi– Olga Marlin, Mary Mahoney (former army nurse), Marlene Sousa, Elisa Serrano, Rosario Insausti. 
  • Group 2 (three equally brave women), left from Rome one month later, even after all the violence in the Congo–Tere Temes, Margaret Curran, Encarnacion Riera. 
  • Helping the groups leave Rome was Mary Rivero, from Spain, in the Central Offices of Opus Dei in Rome. She drove the first group to the airport on June 12, 1960. 
  • On the arrival end, Mrs. Agnes Lavelle from Ireland was living in Nairobi and helped get the school started. Mary Kibera is one of the first native-Kenyan members of Opus Dei and also helped get the school started. Later, she headed Kianda School for several years.
In Nairobi, the Founding Eight had very few friends to support their work. They had to rely on earning their own money. Olga had a job at Kenya High School lined up to ensure some income, and some good jobs were anticipated for the well-qualified members of the group, such as nurse Mary Mahoney and secretary Margaret Curran (To Africa, 2011, 64).

When they first arrived at Nairobi airport they were supposed to be met, but nobody was there because their original plan was to arrive on the next plane from Rome one week later, and a telegram changing the arrival time was left over the weekend in a post-office box.

The incoming team rented a house on the Lavington Estate, which had been owned by the St. Austin's Mission, supported by the French Holy Ghost Fathers. It was on Invergara Road (later changed to Vergara Road), near the Invergara Club in the Lavington Estate area.

This is the house that E. R. Marlin–Olga's father and mine–paid a surprise visit to in July 1960. The school founders lived there from June 1960 to June 1961. The two women with her in the photo, Tere Temes and Marlene Sousa, were from Spain and Portugal. When Olga was recuperating from an illness in Spain, she said she saw Tere several times. Marlene Sousa became sick in Nairobi and had to return to Portugal in 1961. (Feb. 29, 2016: Olga is back in Kenya, having recovered surprisingly from her rare illness.)

Dad was visiting Olga for two reasons.
  • He was en route to the former Belgian Congo to address the violence and refugees after independence was declared on June 30, as the Senior Director of the U.N. Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees. He was the highest-ranking American in the agency, reporting to a Swiss High Commissioner, Ambassador Felix Schnyder, and (starting in 1962) his Deputy, Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan, as well as with Yul Brynner, who was playing an active role in bringing the UNHCR's activities some visibility.
  • He was of course concerned for his daughter about the impact of the violence in the Congo on Kenya–not just the Congolese refugees (To Africa, 78-79), but the prospects for a peaceful transition when Kenya itself would become independent.
Olga spoke about the first location of Kianda School in her address to the convocation of Strathmore University when she was awarded her honorary doctorate:
In pre-Independence Kenya it was unheard of to mix the races [African, European, Indian], and Strathmore met with initial hostility. However, they went ahead, full of faith, and incorporated into their shield the symbol of three hearts — one for each race — and the motto Ut omnes unum sint (“That all may be one” John 17, 11) which continues to grace the university shield today. The residential Strathmore College opened in March 1961 with students from all three races.

We had a similar experience with Kianda College. We had discovered that the most popular post-secondary training for girls was a secretarial course, since it took only one year and was well remunerated. Although only one of us was a secretary, we decided to embark on the course in our rented house at Invergara Road, Lavington. However, when we applied to the Nairobi City Council for registration, we were told that we had to have the written consent of all our neighbours before we could admit a non-European student to that area. As soon as we could we moved to the present location of Kianda.
Tom Mboya, Assassinated 1969.
Kianda College is located on Waiyaki Way (A104) in Nairobi, opposite the Afraliti Guest House, which is west of Nairobi School and east of the Communications Commission of Kenya. Strathmore School is located less than three km. southwest of Kianda College.

That founding year 1960 was a few years before Barack Obama Senior obtained a scholarship to study in the United States from a fund controlled by a fellow Luo, Thomas Joseph Odhiambo ("Tom") Mboya - who was Kenya's first Minister for Economic Planning and Development.

L to R: Olga Marlin, Mama Ngina Kenyatta.
As time went by, Tom and his wife Pamela became strong supporters of Kianda College and Pamela was a great friend of my sister Olga (To Africa, 158). When Tom was assassinated on July 5, 1969 Pamela asked Olga look after their children (To Africa, 160).

Mzee Jomo and Mama Ngina Kenyatta also took an interest in Kianda College. They visited in 1970 and later Daniel arap Moi also visited the school.

Out of the mustard seed planted by the original group of eight women have grown some 40 schools and centers for girls and young women in Kenya and elsewhere in Africa, from the first grades through to the university level.

What Happened to the Founding Eight?

Where are the founders of Kianda College today?

Group 1 (June 1960)
Olga Marlin - in Pamplona, Spain for health reasons, to be near the Navarre Clinic.
Mary Mahoney - deceased.
Marlene Sousa - returned to Portugal after recovering from TB in Kenya.
Elisa Serrano - in Spain, after many years in Kenya, for health reasons.
Rosario Insausti - deceased.

Group 2 (July 1960)
Tere Temes - in Spain.
Margaret Curran - deceased.
Encarnacion Riera - in Spain, returned from Kenya after many years for health reasons.