Zawadi Lemayian ’09 grew up as part of the Maasai tribe in Kenya, where, according to the Maasai Girls Education Fund, not one in ten girls will reach the eighth grade. More than 80 percent of Maasai women aren’t even educated at all. But a week ago today, she defied the odds and graduated with two bachelor’s degrees from MIT, one in civil engineering and the other in management. And she credits one amazing high school teacher, Lawrence Njoroge, with not only helping her reach college, but giving her the confidence and inspiration to continue following her dreams.
Before graduation, Lemayian nominated Njoroge for an MIT Inspirational Teacher Award, and he was one of 34 educators worldwide selected by an MIT committee to receive the honor. The award, cosponsored by the MIT Alumni Association and its alumni clubs, the Lemelson-MIT Program, and the MIT Public Service Center, provides a vehicle for MIT students to formally recognize influential high school teachers and offers a way for MIT to celebrate outstanding educators and help influence K-12 education.
“Most students end up successful as a result of principles that were instilled in them in their youth,” Lemayian wrote in her nomination to explain why it was important to recognize her teacher. What’s more, Lemayian’s family flew Njoroge in from Africa to attend Commencement—his first trip to the U.S. Find out what he thought of the experience.
As an MIT student, Lemayian worked to improve the lives of Maasai women in Kenya. In 2007, she applied for a grant from the MIT Public Service Center, which funds 50 students each year to help underserved communities worldwide—but for an unprecedented purpose. She wanted to use it to buy donkeys.
The animals would carry much-needed and difficult-to-access water for the tribe. But she also arranged for women to control this resource, which served to empower them in their community. And she worked with the chief to convince three families to send their daughters to school.
The next year, Lemayian reported to Public Service Center staff that the donkeys had reproduced, so the business holdings were increasing.