Students in the Middle School erupted in booming applause at the announcement of a special guest speaker during their Friday morning chapel: teaching associate Yonne Nasimiyu.
Even though this is Ms. Nasimiyu’s first year at Norfolk Academy, she has already made a big impact on her students, who enjoy listening to her stories and are enthralled by her upbeat personality. Throughout the year, she has been receiving questions about her background, so she decided to share her upbringing in Kenya with the entire Middle School.
“Today I would like to share a short, personal narrative with you,” said Ms. Nasimiyu. “I am from Africa...which is a continent, not a country, by the way.” After a few laughs at the common misconception died down, Ms. Nasimiyu described how she was born and raised. She grew up in a culture that, “believed that family was the foundation of a society.” Family structure was unique; extended family members had the same authority as immediate family members.
“If I misbehaved, my aunts and uncles were allowed to discipline me,” said Ms. Nasimiyu. “I was poor but never for a day in my life did I feel impoverished; I found my life meaningful due to the relationships I had with my family.”
While she was growing up, Ms. Nasimiyu’s family members frequently took care of her, since her mother was a volleyball player for the Kenyan National Team and often traveled. This solidified her idea that family structure was a “crucial part of my existence.”
Since her mother was traveling internationally, it granted Ms. Nasimiyu the opportunity to learn about places all over the world.
“One year, when my mother went to play in Japan, she invited her host family to visit our family in Kenya,” said Ms. Nasimiyu. “Our new friends Yurika and Kono soon became part of our family. They absorbed every aspect of our culture; they were intrigued by our traditions, customs, etiquette, language, and religion. Our friends’ curiosity and eagerness to learn about my culture greatly impacted me. It ignited a new passion of traveling and learning about other cultures.”
Little did she know at the time, but an opportunity to travel and learn about a new culture would soon be knocking at her door. Eventually, her mother traveled to play in the United States. She called Ms. Nasimiyu to inform her that she would be joining her in the following year.
“Although I was excited about this opportunity, I was frightened at the thought of leaving my family and my country to start a new life abroad. However, I flew to the United States alone at the age of 9.”
Her fears and doubts about life in the States did not linger. She soon immersed herself in her new environment and began to learn the customs. That is not to say everything was smooth sailing. She was always confused - and mildly concerned - when she was offered a doggie bag at restaurants. After all, she simply wanted to take home her food, not a bag full of dogs!
Following her graduation from high school, Ms. Nasimiyu continued her education at a Stephens College, a private women's college in Missouri.
“Stephens instilled me with a sense of empowerment that I had never experienced before,” she said. “I was always surrounded by people who were not like-minded; I was challenged in ways that I had never been challenged before. As a result, I was able to reflect, learn, grow, and reinvent myself. I discovered that these moments were ones that always led to the best experiences.”
In order to challenge herself and create a new experience, Ms. Nasimiyu took a chance and - after graduating from a women’s college - applied for a job at Skylemar, an all-boys camp in Maine. It was at the camp where she was surrounded by “authentic, talented, humble, loving, people” and made unforgettable memories working with the campers and counselors. This helped propel her into wanting a career where she could interact with children and help them realize their full potential inside and outside the classroom, and eventually led her to Norfolk Academy.
She ended her speech with advice for her Middle School students, faculty, and staff members in the audience.
“My challenge for you today, is to get out of your comfort zone and take a chance on something new. Do not waste your time waiting for perfect moments because you might overlook the small opportunities around you that could have the best lasting impressions. And along your journey in this life, never forget the people that guided you along the way.”