Daniel Muoki, a 21-year-old Kenyan who studies railway technology in Beijing, has a big plan for his future.
When I graduate here, I will work in Kenya for some years and then I may come back to China for my masters, or even a PhD,” said Muoki, with a confident smile on his face.
Currently a sophomore student at Beijing Jiaotong University, a top university in China for railway studies, Muoki is originally from a small village in Makueni county in southeast Kenya.
Situated near a national park and surrounded by thick forests, Muoki’s hometown is only 15 km from the Mombasa-Nairobi rail line — the country’s first modern railway built with Chinese standards and technology.
Usually, people in Makueni travel to the capital Nairobi by bus, or through the old railway, which was built a century ago during British colonial rule, and both trips could take at least four hours, according to Muoki. However, with the new China-built rail track set to start operation in June, this journey will be shortened to less than two hours, he said.
“TEACH HIM HOW TO FISH”
The 480-km-long railway connects Nairobi with Mombasa, a historic port of the ancient Maritime Silk Road linking China with Africa and now an important node of the China-proposed Belt and Road Initiative in East Africa.
As the biggest infrastructure project in Kenya since the country’s independence, the railway is expected to slash the travel time between the two cities from more than 10 hours to about four. With its completion, thousands of rail workers and specialists will be needed to operate and maintain this new system.
In response to such a demand, the China Communications Construction Company (CCCC), which has been building the 3.8-billion-U.S.-dollar rail line, has promised to sponsor at least 100 Kenyan high school students to pursue undergraduate study in railway technology at Beijing Jiaotong University with an aim to help the East African country train its future railway experts. The Kenyan government plans to hire all the China-trained graduates to work for the new rail.
“As a Chinese old saying goes, one should not only give a man fish, but also teach him how to fish,” said Liu Xiaofang with the Center for International Education at Beijing Jiaotong University.
The CCCC scholarship program is part of China’s commitment to implement its Belt and Road Initiative proposed by the Chinese leadership with the aim to build a trade and infrastructure network connecting Asia with Europe and Africa along the ancient Silk Road routes.
“MY DREAM WOULD COME TRUE”
Upon seeing the advertisement for the Chinese scholarship on TV, Muoki submitted his application right away. “Since my childhood, I dreamed of being an engineer, but I was not sure what kind of engineer. When I know about this scholarship, I know my dream would come true by being a railway engineer. I am so happy,” he said.
Muoki is among the 25 Kenyan students who arrived in China in April last year to study at Beijing Jiaotong University. They are the first batch of recipients of the CCCC scholarship. The second batch of 35 students landed in Beijing in March this year.
According to Liu, Beijing Jiaotong University has selected the best teachers to provide the Kenyan students courses in English and offered them good accommodation. Meanwhile, they have been invited to attend a variety of activities on the campus so as to learn the Chinese language and culture, and mingle with other students.
Zhu Yabin, who teaches the Kenyans physics experiments, felt satisfied with their performance in class. “To be honest, I was worried that they could not catch up with the course. But now it seems there is no difference between the Kenyan students and the Chinese ones,” she said.
Majoring in rail transit signals and controlling, Muoki now lives in a spacious, tidy double room with a bathroom and a shared kitchen. The scholarship is enough to cover all his tuition and costs despite the rising living expenses in Beijing, he said.
The young man said he loves Chinese food, particularly jiaozi, or Chinese dumplings. And he enjoys running and playing football with his Chinese friends, whom he feels are like “brothers and sisters.” In particular, Muoki is fascinated by the Chinese language despite its difficulty, and his favorite course is Chinese grammar.
“At first it is discouraging, but I put some effort in it and it is not so difficult now,” said Muoki, as he carefully wrote down his name in Chinese on a notebook.
“A GOOD MODEL FOR KENYA”
Like Muoki, Nakayo Ekwee, one of the few girls in the group, also fully enjoys her new life in China. She is passionate about learning Chinese language and culture and loves making Chinese friends.
The 20-year-old major of vehicle engineering is from Turkana country in Lodwar town in northwest Kenya, where there is no railway at all. Yet she has long dreamed of being a rail engineer as “there will be plenty of jobs in my country,” said Ekwee.
For her, the Mombasa-Nairobi railway will significantly change local people’s life in Kenya. “The railway will provide many jobs and improve people’s living standards. It also promotes business and economy,” she said.
Ekwee said she chose to study in China as it is a leading country in railway technology. Besides railway, the girl felt that she could learn “everything” from China, especially the Chinese people’s working spirit, which is a “good model for Kenyans to copy.”
During her one-year stay in China, Ekwee traveled to Guangzhou in south China by high-speed trains and was really impressed.
“I think they are better than planes. I sometimes feel sick on planes, I do not feel sick on trains and they are very fast,” said Ekwee.
“In Kenya, we couldn’t afford such trains for now. But I hope we can have them some day in the future,” she said. Enditem