If you were to ask 100 students in Kenya what their career ambitions are, there is a significant chance that at least 50 of them would say doctor or pharmacist. However, few understand what is really involved in achieving a health care career.
Even if students gain admission to university, they are often unable to afford it. And, should they overcome those challenges, they often make ill-informed decisions about what to study, because they are not given adequate guidance and exposure to their desired profession. The few who successfully complete appropriate coursework may still struggle to get hired. In Kenya, there are far more college graduates than can be absorbed into the job market. Without meaningful work experience, recent graduates lack any competitive advantage.
As co-founder and country director for the Kenya Education Fund, a scholarship organization that helps students living in poverty attend high school, I have learned firsthand the value of mentorship programs. Mentorships expose students to real-world professionals who provide the support necessary to help students realize their educational and professional aspirations.
Today, the Kenya Education Fund coordinates with Johnson & Johnson’s Bridge to Employment (BTE) program to provide a mentoring program and regional workshops focused on problem solving and life skills. This program brings together Phillips Healthcare Services, a distribution partner of Johnson & Johnson, FHI 360, three institutions of higher education and two secondary schools. Fifty young men and women participate in BTE, and it has been an overwhelming success.
BTE fills the need for practical experience, something that neither the high school nor the university system provides the students. BTE offers resources to enable a better understanding of health careers, such as academic support, exposure to institutions of higher learning (especially those that train for health careers) and interactions with medical students and practicing health professionals. Students are linked with volunteers who mentor them, and those personal relationships give them someone to look up to.
BTE’s emphasis on health-related careers is critical in Kenya, due to an acute shortage of health professionals. The few health professionals who are practicing are concentrated in urban areas, leaving rural communities severely disadvantaged.
Improvements to the Kenyan health care system, including new referral hospitals and significant investment in disease prevention and epidemiology research, are already under way. This is a promising development, and BTE helps youth become poised to take full advantage of these opportunities.
Johnson & Johnson recently selected the Kenya Education Fund as a featured cause through their Donate a Photo program. For every photo donated between now and December 31, 2014, Johnson & Johnson will give US$1 toward a scholarship for a Kenyan student seeking a health care career.
You can help these young students realize their health care career ambitions by participating in the Donate a Photo program. It is possible to donate up to one photo every day from now until December 31, 2014. All shared photos become a part of the Donate a Photo online gallery and may be used to promote Donate a Photo, but the photos will not be used for other commercial purposes.
Thank you in advance for helping young Kenyans get scholarships and an education necessary for a full and prosperous life.