“I’m the fifth child, out of seven kids. It’s an interesting order because it’s all boys and then, all girls. I am the oldest girl, but I always felt like I was the “oldest” because of traditional gender roles. There was a component of both being the oldest sister who was serving as a role model, but also being the oldest girl in the family who had to help take care of others. Growing up, the way people talked about house chores, it was mostly the responsibility of girls in the house. It’s something that’s very much embedded in the culture, and it’s just the way things work. On a personal level, I would love to be able to change that in my own house.
I was born and raised in Western Kenya, but moved a little bit east when I was 13, to a smaller town called Eldoret. Growing up in Western Kenya, one of the challenges I observed was that very few people were educated. The case was worse for girls, as most of them did not proceed after high school. Throughout primary school, my family didn’t have much money and paying for tuition was a struggle, even for my parents. I was the only one in my family who went to private school, through all of primary school. In my primary school, Cheptikit Academy, every now and then, the person who was in charge of ensuring tuition was paid (the bursar), would often come to classes with a list of students who still had balances and needed to be sent home. Occasionally, I’d be on the list and I’d have to go to my mother’s school, who taught nearby. It occurred to me much later that this was a wider problem. Education in the public schools was not as good, and in the private schools, it was too expensive for most people.
There’s a component of my family that also influences these thoughts. Throughout most of my dad’s adult life, he’s been wanting to help his own family, and would take some of his siblings to live with him and educate them. I would observe him doing this and sometimes I wondered, “We barely have enough to support ourselves. How is he wanting to support relatives as well?” I saw my dad being an instrument of change in his community, as well as emphasizing the importance of education. Growing up, he would tell me, “Study and do well in school so you can come back and help people.” My family was especially happy for me when I got the opportunity to move from Kenya to come study in the U.S.
In retrospect, the reason I picked Dartmouth, compared to other Ivy League colleges, is because it is an institution that has all of the resources of a big research university, but then is also small enough to have a close, intimate community. Through the programming that we had, the people we met with, the kinds of conversations we had on campus, and Leadership Week, I was a lot more exposed to what was happening in the regions where other Scholars were from, in a way that I don’t think I would’ve learned otherwise. The King Scholars Program was definitely one that strategically introduced me to all of the different things that were happening in the development space. It allowed me to look around and see where I wanted to be.
After Dartmouth, I joined Ashoka and I have been here for almost one year now. I visited Ashoka in 2015 during King Scholars Leadership Week, the very first one. The organization stood out to me as an institution that was working hard to support people who are leveraging the power of business, to achieve social good. I was hearing about social entrepreneurship for the first time, and their approach of trusting the people closest to the problems to be the experts in coming up with solutions was very striking to me.
On a very high level, I want to use the kind of power or capital that I have, whether that is social strategic, intellectual, or financial, to make the lives of other people better.
I’m trying to balance how to work on some of the problems I care about, around access to education, while also balancing other things I’m interested in as an individual, little passions like photography or Argentine tango.
Going back in time, the advice I would give myself as an incoming King Scholar is to truly follow the interests I was discovering, until I got bored. I followed a number of interests outside of the conventional path that I was going to take, such as pursuing Italian or even discovering photography, Tango, and other dances. Yet in the back of my mind, I had the thought that I had to study something more practical. Interest is actually one of the most important things in learning. If I were to go back in time, I’d give myself even more freedom to pursue those interests that I was discovering all the time.
Faith Rotich is a King Scholar at Dartmouth College (’18). She majored in Math and Economics and is originally from Kenya. She now works at Ashoka.