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Sunday, June 19, 2016

OBAMA IN KENYA | Letters

Barack Obama Sr. (L) and Jr. (R), c. 1969. This photo was
sent out by the Obama Presidential campaign.
The New York Times today has an interesting story on letters from and about Barack Obama, Sr., from his time applying for a scholarship in the United States and then requesting funds from his base in Hawaii, where he earned a degree in economics and gave birth to the man who would become President of the United States for two terms.

In his application for scholarship and travel money he provides a résumé of his early training and work experience as an engineer in Kenya. He was a surveyor for a while, like George Washington. He refers to working with a "theodolite", a tripod-based tool of surveyors, allowing measurements of elevation, longitude and latitude.

At the same time that Barack Obama, Sr. was figuring out how to get to the United States, my sister Olga–two years older than him–was studying in Trinity College, Dublin and then training to be a teacher. She then prepared herself to travel to Kenya to create the first integrated (European, Asian and Native African) school for girls in Kenya, what became Kianda College.

Olga and her fellow teachers would replace the European teachers who were leaving because of fears created by the 1952 Mau Mau uprising and independence movement. The British colonial government engaged in mass arrests, 180 leaders at one time, and one of the men jailed for seeking freedom became the leader of an independent Kenya, Mzee Jomo Kenyatta.

My sister went to Kenya in 1960, before independence. Her story is told in her memoir, To Africa with a Dream. She became a Kenyan citizen and was recently awarded an honorary doctorate from Strathmore University, the first such honor the university gave to a woman.