One evening in rural Tanzania, when a teenage boy named Yohanne Kidolezi came home from 12 hours in his family’s rice, corn, bean, and peanut fields, his mother handed him an oddly spelled note. It said something about Dar Es Salaam, United World College, and an interview in three days.
The boy had no idea what this was about. It didn’t make sense. Anyway, his family didn’t have the five dollars that bus and train travel to the national capital and back would cost.
“Maybe it’s important,” his mother said. “You must go.”
A bright young man who had recently graduated from secondary school, Yohanne didn’t agree. He walked off into the night, to go visit friends. What he didn’t know was that the note’s message had been passed from the Tanzanian UWC scholarship committee through Yohanne’s former school, his father in another city, a stationmaster on the train system, a telephone on the train line, the village station in Kintinku, and finally to a boy who had run it to the Kidolezi home. Yohanne had scored very well on the national secondary-school board exam. The volunteer national committee, charged with finding a few very promising students for UWC scholarships, wanted to talk with him.
When the boy came home that night, his mother handed him the equivalent of five U.S. dollars. She had gone door to door in Kintinku, borrowing the money her son needed to travel to Dar Es Salaam.
“Maybe it’s important,” she said.
Early the next morning, wearing a t-shirt and his only dress pants and shoes, and carrying a short-sleeve green shirt for the interview, Yohanne began the long, sticky journey by train and bus. He had directions from the bus station to the home of the cousin of his village stationmaster — but when the bus into Dar Es Salaam got hopelessly mired in traffic, the driver abandoned it, muttering that the boy was on his own.
After reaching the cousin’s home after midnight, soaked in sweat and near tears, Yohanne made his way next morning to the British Consulate, site of the interviews. He read everything he could find on the UWC program. Soon he was summoned to meet with two Tanzanian and two British interviewers. For over an hour, he did the best he could to answer their questions in English, which he had studied in school but had barely ever spoken before.
The interview ended with this: “Here’s the big question, Yohanne. How would you cope with being away from home at one of the United World Colleges?”
Yohanne managed not to laugh. He took a deep breath and told the story of his last 48 hours.
“I wouldn’t be the only one there who didn’t know what to do, who might be afraid,” he told his questioners. “I’d learn from them, and they would learn from me.”
The interviewers shook his hand, said they’d get back to him. Whatever, Yohanne thought. I need to get back home. My mother needs me.
About six hours into the journey back, his bus stopped to refuel, and Yohanne stepped off to stretch. A man asked if he was Yohanne Kidolezi. Wary of strangers, the boy said no, and kept walking.
“Well, do you know who he might be?” the man shouted after him. “He’s needed in Dar Es Salaam.”
Yohanne stopped. He asked, “Why?”
“He’s been awarded a scholarship,” the man said. “I’ve been sent to find him.”
A Dream — and a Chance to Reach It
On the western coast of Norway, Red Cross Nordic United World College is nestled on the shore of the Flekke Fjord, in the small community of Haugland. A few months ago, Yohanne had never even been to Dar Es Salaam; now here he was, in autumn 1998, the first in his family ever to travel beyond the Tanzanian border.
At first, all he could manage to get out in English was “My name is Yohanne, I am from Tanzania.” But by his second and final year at the UWC, now nicknamed “Kido” by his friends, he was thinking he might be able to go on — to go to college.
Visiting UWC campuses around the world was Mike Schoenfeld, then dean of enrollment planning at Middlebury College, now vice president for college advancement. In autumn 1999, American philanthropist Shelby M.C. Davis had created and funded a scholarship program, to provide need-based financial aid to any UWC graduate — there were then 10 UWCs around the world; now there are 12 — who gained acceptance on merit to one of five American colleges and universities. Middlebury was among the new program’s five pilot schools (today, 88 colleges and universities across the U.S. are members), and Schoenfeld was looking for qualified candidates.
In Haugland, he found Kido. After just 20 minutes, the engaging Tanzanian’s inquisitiveness, life story, and infectious joy had won over the admissions officer. That spring, Kido was admitted to Middlebury. The Davis United World Scholarship Program would meet his financial need, which was 100 percent.
Shedding Light and Creating Hope
In February 2001, riding a bus into Middlebury, Vermont, Kido was stunned at the community’s small size. He had expected everything in America to be big.
No matter, he thought. Brimming now with confidence, he threw himself into the life of an American college. By the end of his first year he had formed a unique student singing group, Mchakamchaka. Its members jogged around campus singing Swahili folk and love songs in a Tanzanian tradition. He also became active in international student affairs, and bonded closely with his American classmates.
In spring 2003, he got a phone call from his brother. “Mother is sick, you need to come home.” He went back to Kintinku. Four days later, his mother passed away.
Kido didn’t know what to do next. If he returned to college, what would become of the family’s farm? Could his siblings get along without him?
“But my mother would have been so disappointed if I had stayed,” he said later. “I realized I had
to go back.” He did.
In summer 2004, having won a research grant through the college, Kido returned to Tanzania to study child labor practices. He spent three months interviewing children from four to 16 years old who were being forced to work 12 to 14 hours a day, seven days a week. For them, school would never be an option.
Back in Middlebury with binders stuffed full of data, Kido wrote a report that broke new ground in studying this problem that prevails across sub-Saharan Africa. Rather than interview those who are forcing children into labor — people motivated to lie about the work being done — he had spoken with the children themselves. In Tanzania, that approach broke cultural barriers. His thesis showed that the problem is far more severe than had been thought.
Kido graduated with honors in spring 2005. There never was a prouder parent at a Middlebury College graduation than Kido’s dad, who had come all the way from Tanzania.
The African Journal Review accepted Kido’s thesis for publication. He went to work in Boston for the Analysis Group, which provides economic analysis for law firms and corporations. He’s a class agent for Middlebury College, and he’s thinking about going to business school. After that, he says, he will return home.
“I feel a strong obligation to go home and do something there — to help the people of my country,” he said recently. He recalled listening to Shelby Davis speak on yearly visits with the college’s Davis UWC Scholars.
“Every time during his speeches, his message was that he has invested in us,” Kido said. “He said, ‘I know that some good is going to come of you. You come from all over the world, and you will make this world a better place.’ ”
(This article is adapted from previous writings by Mike Schoenfeld and by Matt Jennings, editor of Middlebury Magazine.)