Smart Role Models


Smart Role Models

Foreword to Smart Role Models


Samantha Wamani Rolfe

Program Coordinator

Akili Dada Scholarship Fund

Nairobi, Kenya

I loved this story by Karim about a young boy of just 10 years who’s rationale for learning Latin left me awestruck!

The simple act of having a role model can change the course of a child’s life. Aubrey’s mentors and the impact it had on him had such a profound impact upon the author, Karim, who took to practicing mentorship in his work place several years later.

I have been so inspired by the examples of the effective and smart role models for the PFA students from accounts of the experiences of Molly Burke, Executive Director of Bicycles Against Poverty in Uganda who continues to be the role model of PFA Editors Lucia, Carly, Ella and Charlotte. In addition, there is Rutendo, who is the smart role model of Colin. Then, there is CNN Hero ,Founder and Director of Nyaka Schools in Uganda, Jackson Kaguri, who has been an excellent and smart role model and mentor to Nicolas, CEO of One Pencil Per Child.

And of course, there is also my dear friend and work associate here in Nairobi, Purity Kagwiria, Executive Director of Akili Dada, who is a smart and excellent role model to Shannon, who is the Editor-in-Chief of African Kitchen Table, and now also the CEO of Girl Smart Africa.

This is global community at its best, teaching each other, and learning from each other.

That is the kind of world in which I want to live!

Smart Role Models

As I recently explained in the previous post entitled ‘Smart Simon‘:

“I was fortunate, in my own middle school years, to have spent half of those middle school years at a school in Nairobi, Kenya, and the other half at a school in London, England.”

I was sent to school in London from Nairobi at the age of 7 and schooled there until the age of 10 when I returned to Nairobi. A vital part of the curriculum at the school I attended in London was Latin. Since English was not my first language, I was already struggling to learn English and to keep up with the excellent proficiency level of my fellow students. The added challenge of learning Latin, was something I found exasperating – as I said to my fellow cricketer Aubrey on the fields.

In Latin class when we were ten, Aubrey and I were assigned our first Latin homework essay.


I turned to my friend Aubrey once more, and began to lament about our assignment:

“Why Aubrey?” I bewailed, “Why must we learn Latin? What use is Latin going to be to us?”

Aubrey, even at the tender age of ten years old, was an adroit and deft diplomat. He looked at me thoughtfully and then responded with painstaking patience and politeness: “Well, you see Karim,” replied Aubrey, “I’m considering a career in politics and for me Latin will come in quite handy.”

I did not see the connection. And so I pressed Aubrey further on this:

“Aubrey, what has Latin to do with a career in politics?” I inquired bewilderedly.

“Well, Karim,” replied Aubrey with his familiar fortitude, “When one makes one’s maiden speech in parliament, it is not considered unseemly to sprinkle in the occasional phrase in Latin.”


Think about that, reader. Think about that for just a moment:

At the tender age of just ten years old, Aubrey was confidently envisioning himself as a Member of Parliament making his maiden speech in the British House of Commons. That vision in his mind would presume that Aubrey was already elected to parliament. The next position up from being elected to parliament is to be elected to the prime ministership, the highest office in the land.

How does a ten year old boy have that kind of vision and aspiration? Where does it come from?

I soon found out.


Eaton Square in Belgravia, London, where Aubrey lived

When I visited with Aubrey and his parents at their home in Eaton Square in London, I came to understand that Aubrey’s dad was an attorney who had been awarded his ‘silk’ and become a QC (Queen’s Counsel) and was legal advisor to several politicians. These politicians would often dine at the home of Aubrey’s parents, and so Aubrey had the opportunity to interact with them, ask them questions about their profession, and take an active interest in international politics.

That is the power of smart role models.

It sometimes takes just one smart role model to inspire and transform the life of a young person.

I have taken the lesson I learned from Aubrey’s example into my work with Pencils for Africa.

Specifically, I have strived to pair up, or match up, PFA students with smart role models that will allow these PFA students to then build a vision for the future for Africa, that they may not have envisioned, had it not been for the presence of a strong, smart role model working with Africa.

Below are just a few examples of effective and smart role models for the PFA students:

Molly, Smart Role Model to the PFA Editors-in-Chief


Molly Burke, Executive Director of Bicycles Against Poverty in Uganda, has been a wonderful role model to the PFA Editors-in-Chief Lucia, Carly and Charlotte. Molly has an obvious admiration for the efficiency and management skills of the PFA Editors and the entire PFA Team as is evidenced by Molly’s blog post on the Portfolio PFA website (click here to read Molly’s post).

Rutendo, Smart Role Model to Colin

Rut3 2

Rutendo Urenje at Oxford University

As Colin develops his plans for the Unscramble for Africa program, of which he is the CEO, Rutendo Urenje, Managing Editor of African Peace Journal, has been an essential support and mentor for Colin. Although Rutendo is based in Geneva, Switzerland, where she also works for the migration and refugee section of the United Nations, Rutendo has been Skyping with Colin to help Colin to launch his program. To listen to Rutendo’s video greeting to Colin kindly click here.

Jackson, Smart Role Model to Nicolas

Nicolas, CEO of One Pencil Per Child with mentor and CNN Hero, Jackson Kaguri

Nicolas with smart role model Jackson

CNN Hero and Founder and Director of Nyaka Schools in Uganda, Jackson Kaguri, has been an excellent and smart role model and mentor to Nicolas, CEO of One Pencil Per Child.

It is a treat to listen to the compelling 15 minute video discussion between Jackson and Nicolas. To listen to this conversation between Jackson and Nicolas kindly click here.

Purity, Smart Role Model to Shannon


Shannon with smart role model Purity

Purity Kagwiria, Executive Director of Akili Dada, is a smart and excellent role model to Shannon, who is the Editor-in-Chief of African Kitchen Table, and now also the CEO of Girl Smart Africa.

Purity has generously provided Shannon with a wide support structure, through several members of the management of Akili Dada, including Veronica Thamaini and Donna Sinar, as well as a graduate of the Akili Dada scholarship program, Sharon Adongo. It is inspiring to listen to Shannon’s welcome video on African Kitchen Table. To view Shannon’s video kindly click here.

In addition to all of the above, Shannon and the PFA students now have access to the Akili Dada scholarship recipients and have begun a dialogue on the topic of ‘What is Smart?’ on this website.

To view the responses to PFA students from these young students in Kenya, kindly click here.

There is no passion to be found playing small – in settling for a life that is less than the one you are capable of living.

— Nelson Mandela