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Student to return to Kenya, build town’s first library

June 3, 2018

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — When Mike Kitimet walked into Boatwright Memorial Library as a University of Richmond freshman, he knew that’s what he wanted.

He’d seen libraries before, but not like this. The expansive study space, exhaustive book collection and computers were a world apart from the small library at his high school, two hours from his hometown in Kenya.

“It was just a new experience altogether,” he said.

Now, the rising senior is trying to bring that feeling home.

Kitimet, 23, left Richmond on Friday to travel back to Kiserian, a settlement southwest of the country’s capital city of Nairobi, to build a library for elementary and middle school students — the first of its kind for the town.

“To have a place outside of class where they can go and study or just read, that’s what I want,” he said. “I really want to give these kids an opportunity to expand their horizons and achieve higher education, which many of them lack.”

Growing up in Kiserian, Kitimet had to travel to a neighboring town — a 30-minute drive — for access to books. There is no library for any grade level in his hometown.

The effort is supported by a $10,000 Projects for Peace grant, an initiative named for the late humanitarian Kathryn W. Davis that aims to help youth empower and uplift communities.

Kiserian, the name of the settlement that lies at the foot of the Ngong Hills, loosely translates in English to “a place of peace.” Kitimet’s project will bring services to an estimated 600 elementary and middle school students.

“They’re not well-prepared for high school and, if they don’t have a good foundation, they won’t be able to matriculate past high school,” Kitimet said. “This library will help build that foundation for these kids.”

He added: “I was able to maneuver the system, but many of the kids back home don’t have those same opportunities. Hopefully, this facility will help their academic empowerment.”

Kitimet first came to the U.S. in 2013, spending a year at a high school in Indiana. He returned to Kenya and finished high school, but first got involved with the Equity Group Foundation, an East African foundation based in Nairobi.

He found out about the University of Richmond through the foundation and was set on coming to Virginia after getting a strong financial aid package.

“I had been to Indiana and experienced the Midwest,” he said. “I wanted a different experience.”

In his time at the University of Richmond, he’s become a Bonner Scholar, one of 25 students chosen to intern 10 hours a week at one organization in exchange for financial assistance to help their civic engagement, and an Oliver Hill Scholar, participating in “culturally stimulating activities” with other “academically accomplished, intellectually curious students who are interested in building a community of learners within a multicultural environment.”

Kitimet majors in mathematics with a minor in economics.

When Kathy Hoke, a math professor at UR, thinks of Kitimet, she sees him raising his hand and always answering questions.

Hoke had Kitimet in class during his freshman year and recalled how he would always volunteer in class and wasn’t afraid to make mistakes.

“He stands out as a leader in the classroom,” said Hoke, adding that he works well with others. “He thinks in a big way.”

It didn’t surprise Hoke when she found out about Kitimet’s library project. She knew she had to help.

Along with other math professors, Hoke purchased books and donated others from around her house to the cause. In total, Kitimet collected more than 700 books, 30 to 40 of which came from Hoke.

He shipped them off to Kenya this month, where they’ll be waiting when he arrives this week.

Kitimet has a space in a local school secured for the library. He’ll need to redo the floor and put up bookshelves while also training student staff members — he wants it to run like a university library.

The construction shouldn’t take more than 2½ months, he said. Once complete, he’ll return to Richmond for his senior year, where, if all goes well, he’ll be collecting more books for an expansion of the library.

“I consider myself successful today because of education,” he said. “Education is the most powerful tool somebody can use to transform the world.”

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Information from: Richmond Times-Dispatch, http://www.richmond.com

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