Stanford Common App Essay: Sheila

Stanford Common App Essay: Sheila


Discuss an accomplishment or event, formal or informal, that marked your transition from childhood to adulthood within your culture, community, or family.

As I sat in the one roomed ramshackle, I could tell that the five other individuals with whom I shared the room were fast asleep. The lamp was slowly waning, a true sign that the kerosene was almost used up. Unlike the screams and gunshots that filled the air the previous night, the entire slum was silent. I was frantically trying to piece together the next day’s lesson plan but She was all I could think of. She sat there, perfectly blended with the other kids, all in tattered uniform and unkempt hair. As I entered the classroom with my smelly shoes thanks to the streams of running sewage that I had to jump across with little success, I could feel their anticipation. Despite their physical uniformity, Sheila distinguished herself intellectually. I was a volunteer English teacher at her school. It was my first lesson, yet she’d ask and answer questions without the timidness in the rest of the pupils. Her English was nowhere near perfect but she was never afraid of airing her views. If this were a private school catering for the other half, her character would have gone unnoticed, but Five Star was a slum school housed in a church. It catered for the kids of Kangemi,a slum in Nairobi. Therefore my curiosity drove me to have a tête-ă-tête with her over lunch hour. Mimi sijui mamangu na babangu, nilizaliwa huko kwa njia (I do not know my parent’s, I was born on the street) she said after I inquired about her family. Her jovial mood slowly turned into a solemn one. I felt guilty for having made her feel sad. I now saw her in a different light. Behind her demeanor of a confident child, lay a child who had been abandoned by her mother, picked up by a good Samaritan and raised in the slums. Behind her smile was a young girl who apart from doing her homework after school also had to help her foster mother go buy water miles away then come back and cook dinner. Nataka kusaidia ‘mamangu’ na watoto wake(I want to help my foster mother and her kids) She said in a shaky voice, citing this as her main reason for taking her academic work seriously. She went ahead to tell how she had to stay at home most of the time so as to help her foster mother take care of her kids. How she was sometimes forced to go to the street and beg in order help her ‘mother’ feed the family. After the chat, as I watched her walk away gracefully, I could feel tears build up in my eyes. Throughout my high school course,I had read Fitzgerald and Wole Soyinka, listened to recorded speeches of Theodore Roosevelt and Obama and read about Mandela, but none of these had had such a profound impact as Sheila. I was moved, not only because of Sheila’s fortitude, but also because I saw myself in the girl. Just as I, she had great ambitions. She was determined not to let her social and economic circumstances dictate how far she could go in life. Most importantly, she was a person working hard, not only to better her life, but also that of those around her. I had come all the way from Ebusiekwe with a view to imparting knowledge to these kids, instead I ended up being inspired. She represented an entire group, of forsaken individuals whose spirits refuse to be broken. That night, as I struggled to make a lesson plan, I kept in mind that I had to do this for Sheila. If she would attend school the next day, then I was determined to make sure that her time wouldn’t be wasted. As the wind blew, a sign that a storm was imminent. As the lamp flickered and the room became much colder, I wrote and rewrote. For Sheila.

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