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A Small Act That Continues To Give Back: The Story of Patrick Kimani

 

By: Niamh McDonnell

kimani jnr kimani now
BEFORE: Kimani in 2007 AFTER: Kimani in 2017

 

As the Hilde Back Education Fund sends hundreds of bright students to secondary school in Kenya, they continue to check in on students who have now further pursued their education by attending University. Those who have seen A Small Act will remember the bright young boy named Kimani- one of the school’s top students, whose dream was to become educated. Almost 10 years after filming, Niamh McDonnell, HBEF communications volunteer based in New York, interviewed Kimani to shine a light on where his education has brought him, his plans for the future, and what it was like to be given a leading role in the film. Having spoken with him, it’s clear that he is grounded in his abilities yet he never stops dreaming big. And with all that he has accomplished so far, it’s clear that there is no reason for him to think otherwise: not only is he an inspirational figure for HBEF students, but he is the perfect example of what an education can bring to the world. We hope that Kimani’s story serves to further exemplify the significance of HBEF and its contribution to the world, as well as to inspire those who are able to sponsor a student of their own.

HBEF:

You were one of the shining stars in A Small Act. What was that experience like for you; did you know you were going to have such a large role when they were filming?

Kimani:

When [the film crew] first came to my school I did not know what a documentary movie would look like. The documentaries that I had seen were [usually] about animals, so I didn’t know what a documentary would look like in my situation. And because I was really desperate about going to school, I remember my first reaction was: ‘I get a scholarship if I get to be part of this’ so I really did not care what I had to do; the possibility of me going to high school and giving me this chance was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. So I didn’t think past ‘I’m going to get a scholarship.’ That was my huge excitement. I remember telling my mom and my grand-mom, and those were the same [feelings] they had. They were like ‘you get to have a scholarship, we have to do whatever it takes.’ I remember we were given contracts to sign, and we never really read into them. We were not hoping to make money; we were just excited that I’d get to go to high school. So a big role wasn’t in my mind, it was just: ‘I have an opportunity where I can have enough money to go to school,’ which was something that my grandma and my mom had never thought would be a possibility. They were very excited about that aspect of it.

kimani school sm

HBEF:

I know initially following your story in the film there had only been one spot open for the scholarship. What was that experience like for you?

Kimani:

It was hard realizing that there was three of us and now they had to choose one. Obviously at the very end when the scholarships were handed to us, we were not sure who was going to get it and who was not going to get it. So it was a moment of ‘I am not sure whether I’m going to be chosen, I am not sure if I’m going to be a part of this.’ So it was hard for us to think that I get to be really excited and hopeful, but at the same time, I might not get this. [At one point] I was really hopeful and everything was looking really good, and then it seemed like it was not going to happen. So it was really hard.

HBEF:

Having become one of the faces of the Hilde Back Education Fund, what impact has that had on your journey through your education?

Kimani:

I feel really grateful for what they have done; every time I reflect on how far that I’ve come, HBEF plays a big role in that picture. And at the same time, that picture comes with a huge responsibility and obligation that I have become a success story of something that is really helpful for kids. And I’ve become an inspirational figure to kids from my school, kids from my village, and kids at the foundation. So it’s this feeling of being looked up to by people who are younger than you or people who know about HBEF. And it’s been overwhelming in the aspect of having to uphold this success story, not only for the benefit of myself but for other kids to know that it is possible for them to pursue something and actually be able to go. And HBEF has not only given them a chance to do that, it’s giving them resources to be able to access this. So it’s lots of obligations and responsibility, but it’s also a challenge to keep going and keep pushing and telling kids ‘you can do it. If I did it, if I was in the same class as you, if I was in this village with you, and there’s opportunity through HBEF, you can also be [this] person.’

HBEF:

Has being given this position as a rolemodel stressed you out or does it just make you happy?

Kimani:

It has both moments to be honest. It has moments where you feel that you’ve been looked up to by all these kids. I remember going back to my village and these kids were looking up to me. I taught a class last summer when I went home for the first time, so I had been here [in the States] for almost two years. And then I remember going back home last summer, and being in the same class where the movie was shot. I was talking to the kids and telling them ‘you can do this.’ And then I remember leaving, and coming back to the U.S., and sitting in a class feeling ‘wow, I just told someone they can do it. And here I am in a class and this thing that I’m trying to study for is not actually working!’ Ha ha ha. So there’s this balance of ‘am I going be extremely stressed or am I going to push through and stand out for other people?’ It’s been a lot of me sacrificing myself to be like ‘ok. Someone else is looking up to me; I gotta do better.’

kim mentoring

 

HBEF:

What has education meant to you over the years?

Kimani:

I think it’s meant access to resources. Access to people who are of different opinions from me, of different perspectives from me. It’s also brought me success in small steps that I can slowly see. I remember when I was going to school at home in Kenya, education was the only thing that I could look up to to become somewhat useful in society. It was the only key to becoming someone who could be very helpful and successful. Education was big. It was big for my family; it was big for everyone in my village. I had to do something. I had to become successful. So education has given me that hope of becoming successful. It’s also continued to push me to go beyond what I know and explore the different resources that education gives. Going to school in Kenya was completely different than going to school here. Here, I’ve had instances where someone mentions Africa, and because I’m from Africa, they look to me to tell them about it. And sometimes it’s such a general reference- Africa is big. I’m from Kenya. When someone looks [to] me, it’s like ‘ok. I need to have a perspective that I can present to them, for them to be able to understand that I might be from Africa, but I do not represent all of Africa.’ So I’m trying to immerse myself in those kinds of conversations. And open-mindedness has been the other thing that education has given me.

 

HBEF:

Having said that, what was it like moving to America for University; was there an adjustment period of culture shock?

Kimani:

There was a lot of culture shock, and that was just what I had to do. The movie can show you the village that I grew up in. So my access to any Western aspects were from a TV. I remember it was a seven inch by seven inch black and white TV that one of my neighbors in the village used to have. I love watching movies; and so does my mom, so we would go to my friend’s house and we would watch Hollywood movies. My mom, for some reason, also loved soap operas. I remember growing up with my mom and taking her. Because I’m the first born, I would go with her since she had to walk almost half a mile to go to my neighbor’s house to watch them. The soap operas were the Days of Our Lives, and The Bold and The Beautiful, etc. So my perspective [of the West] was soap operas, Hollywood movies, and that Western approach to us through the media. For me, it was mostly thinking that when I get to the U.S. I’m going to see skyscrapers everywhere, expensive cars, and people owning expensive houses.   I didn’t expect to see corn; I didn’t expect to see cows. But I went to Wisconsin! [At one point] I’m in Chicago and I’m so excited because it’s Chicago! I’m thinking it’s a big city and I’m going to see all this once I step out of the airport. But then I remember being in the airport and looking at people, and I’m like ‘this looks really different from what I expected. This looks so different.’ [In Western media] the presentation of people is not real, especially through the movies. I’m not seeing everyone as blonde, or big and muscular. I went to Wisconsin and everything was so different; I had to adjust. The next thing was food. I remember eating so much fruit in my first three weeks of school that my meal plan expired two months into the semester! It was the only thing I was used to. I remember being very excited to leave Kenya and to come here, and my body was really excited. So the first few days was excitement of ‘I wanna see, I wanna explore, I wanna immerse myself in this whole U.S. setting.’ After two days, I hadn’t slept. I was jetlagged but my body didn’t want to sleep. I remember after two days my body and my system just broke down. I fell asleep and slept for 14-15 hours straight. My sponsor Linda was so worried. I woke up and I couldn’t recognize it. It took me about two hours to actually readjust and come back and realize ‘this is where I am.’ So it took a while for me to get used to the food, but now I can eat almost anything. I love Italian food. And I remember the first thing my sponsor family made me was lasagna. It was delicious; I had never had that before.

 

HBEF:

You’ve mentioned to me that you’re going to school full time and working. What are you currently studying and what have you been working on?

Kimani:

I’m studying communications. I was heavily hoping to venture into the film industry and make films; I still have that hope. I hope to graduate this coming May. I’m [also] currently working as an intern at a law firm in Seattle. I got the opportunity about a month ago, and it’s been really fun working there. I’m there part time. And because I didn’t have a job before this, when I was talking to a bunch of my friends last year they mentioned that one of their friends was looking for a babysitter and someone who could clean their house. So I’m basically a [nanny] on the side!

 

HBEF:

Do you think that having had the experience on the film influenced you to take a media/film route?

Kimani:

Yes. I think that was heavily a determinant because I love cameras. Especially the practical part- doing the camera work, the videography, the editing; it’s really impressive to me how all those things fall into place and make one beautiful thing. Growing up, I always wondered how that happened. I would watch television and I would be like ‘ok. The guy is obviously not behind the TV, so where is he?’ So that thinking, and then having Jennifer [Arnold] come up to me and do the documentary, I think it changed my whole view of it. It was like: ‘this is how it actually happens. This is actually how it’s done.’ And it’s changed how I view [film]. Growing up I used to be in the school journalism club. I would read news during assemblies so I wanted to be a news anchor. I still want to do that sometime in the future. So the film had a really big influence in me taking a media route.

 

*Niamh McDonnell is a volunteer HBEF communications adviser based in New York, USA

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