“My sister tells me she wants to be a Doctor. I force myself to smile. I re-assure her that she is truly going to be a doctor. […] Her dreams are as valid as my own, but it is not true, not for a girl from this village. The hunters are out there preying on every young innocent soul. The girl child in this poor village has no future.”
So writes Jasper Chumba ’19 in a blog post describing a problem in his home village in Kenya—too many young women are getting pregnant and dropping out of school. Chumba was once part of this dynamic, but now he wants better for his sister and others.
“In deep pain, I plant this seed today in the name of ‘Bright Future for a village Girl,’” he writes. “I will not relent until she has the same value, the same future, and the same opportunities as he. Join me today, let us save our sisters for a better tomorrow.”
Before even finishing his first year at Lehigh, Chumba has contacted Alex Wiseman, associate professor and director of the Comparative and International Education program, and formed a team with three graduate students. They’re trying to break the cycle of teen pregnancies in Chumba’s village and give girls a chance to have the same opportunities he had.
Opportunities like attending college in the United States. Chumba didn’t know much about America until he did well enough on his final exams to attract the attention of KenSAP, the Kenya Student-Athlete Project, which helps gifted students from rural western Kenya get into selective colleges in the United States. He decided on Lehigh because he wanted to study engineering.
“Since I was in high school, I’ve been passionate about being an engineer, bringing change and innovation,” says Chumba. “What I like about Lehigh is that it promotes student innovations. Like the electrical engineering department requires that before you can graduate, you shall have developed something that works. That’s the kind of stuff that I’m interested in. I don’t like to just learn stuff without having to apply it.”
Chumba’s first semester was a big adjustment—it took time to adapt to the culture and climate at Lehigh and it was tough to balance his academics and his position on the cross country team. But now he feels settled here. He’s part of the National Society of Black Engineers, and he’s working with friends from China, Spain, Thailand, and Korea on a first-year research project to show American culture through the eyes of international students.
For now, Chumba’s main innovation is the project to change the culture in his village.
“In my village, there are so many early pregnancies and girls dropping out of school because of sexual harassment and stuff like that,” he explains. “I’m trying to create a program that will help educate them because most of the things they do, it’s out of illiteracy. There’s no one who really teaches them about these things.”
Chumba has already sent out surveys to villagers as part of a needs assessment. He plans to travel home in July to run several workshops and train volunteers who will help educate the girls and boys of his village and provide them with the resources they need to have healthier relationships.
This is surely only the beginning of what Chumba has to offer.
“I have big dreams; I’m so ambitious about life. … Through my innovation I feel I can start something that will have an influence back in my country.”