Dowdle Family Visit to the Starehe Girls’ Centre and School in Nairobi

Next year is the 20th anniversary since Louise Martin’s death from the terrorist bombing of the American embassy in Nairobi. After her death, generous contributions of friends and colleagues at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Task Force for Global Health were combined to establish the Louise Martin, DVM, MS, EIS ’85 Endowed Memorial Scholarship, administered by the CDC Foundation. 

The first modest annual scholarships were awarded through the Limuru Girls Centre, a struggling small institution outside Nairobi teaching essential career skills. When the Centre folded in 2002, a few nationally respected Kenyan women educators saw the vacant campus as an opportunity to realize a long-held dream of founding a charitable boarding high school for girls. Their dream was a sister school to the Starehe Boys Centre, a highly regarded charitable Nairobi boarding institution founded more than 50 years ago. 

This past September, I had the opportunity to return to the campus with my wife Mabel, daughter Denise, and her husband Dale. We were joined at the Centre by Nora Macklin and Julie Mwabe of the CDC Kenya Country Office. From our morning welcome by Rose Mukunya, deputy principal, to our closing afternoon discussions, it was a rewarding and deeply inspirational experience.

In 12 years, the Starehe Girls’ Centre and School has grown from 72 students to the current total of 513 and has more than doubled its physical facilities. The school is unwavering in its dedication to provide the “supportive environment in which girls from disadvantaged backgrounds can develop their full potential in academic and personal development.” The Centre goes to great lengths to assure that the girls selected are truly in need of financial help and represent a cross section of Kenya’s geographic regions, ethnic groups and religions. 

Our campus tour with Mary Njuguna of the school’s Sponsorship Office took us to classes in session; immaculately kept dorms with four girls to a room; a music class rehearsing lively traditional village acapella under large shade trees, with an audience of vervet monkeys; the extensive, well-kept vegetable gardens; and the onsite dairy. We reached the dining hall in time to marvel at the girls’ efficiency in setting tables and the removal of approximately 513 pairs of shoes at the door. 

Topping off the day were our two meetings with the six girls currently sponsored by the Martin Scholarships. The girls were deeply appreciative of the opportunities made possible by contributions to the fund and were grateful to be at the school. Seeing the transformation of shy first-year girls into confident, articulate and well-educated fourth-year young ladies is remarkable.  

CDC Kenya is partnering with the Centre to explore mentoring options and other opportunities to serve. For those of us not so close by, a collective goal of increasing the endowment to $500,000 and the number of scholarships to eight or more beginning next year would be a fitting tribute on this 20th anniversary. Please help us reach this goal.

To learn more or to make a gift to the Louise Martin, DVM, MS, EIS ’85 Endowed Memorial Scholarship, please visit the fund’s webpage

Walter R. Dowdle, PhD, EIS Hon. ’91, is former deputy director of CDC, former director of programs at the Task Force for Global Health and a former colleague of the late Louise Martin.