Feature: More and more Kenyans benefit from Chinese scholarship, assistance

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On a sunny day in the Kenyan capital Nairobi, dozens of Chinese tourists roam from one shop to another in the City Market, a bustling craftwork shopping center.

George Obara, the local tour guide, is busy helping them choose souvenirs and get a better price.

Obara speaks fluent Chinese, Kiswahili and English, which makes him the center of attention whenever he appears in this market.

With more and more Chinese tourists coming to Kenya, he earns more money and brings more business to local shopkeepers.

"I benefit a lot from my five-year stay in China as a student," said the 33-year-old Kenyan, who went to study the Chinese language and then computer science in China early under the Chinese government scholarship.

Now, apart from being a tour guide, he also operates his own computer company.

Obara is just one of the beneficiaries of the Chinese scholarship.

According to official statistics, over the years, China has granted scholarships to more than 200 Kenyans, most of whom study in China for five or even eight years.

Last year, a group of 11 Kenyan students got the valuable chance. Among them is Mwamaka Sharifu, a Kenyan girl with Chinese blood, who has become well-known in both countries for her unique and interesting story.

Sharifu was born in the remote village of Siyu in Lamu islands along the Kenyan coast, where many pieces of ancient chinaware were unearthed recently.

Legend has it that a Chinese trade vessel sank somewhere near the island hundreds of years ago and the sailors aboard settled down and gradually merged into the local community.

Many archaeologists and journalists who visited Lamu believe the wrecked ship must be one of the grand fleets which was led by the great Chinese navigator Zheng He that visited Kenya's Malindi, Mombasa and other east African ports in the year 1415.

Apart from a lot of chinaware found in Kenya's coast areas, the fact that some locals exhibit Chinese features makes scholars believe that they are the offspring of Zheng's crew.

Sharifu's fate was totally changed after groups of Chinese visited her village to study the cultural relics left by an ancient Chinese fleet.

And suddenly she stole the limelight as she was invited to visit China as a special guest and was offered a scholarship to pursue further studies in a Chinese college last September.

Currently, Sharifu is studying medicine at a university in east China's coast city of Nanjing. "I want to be a good doctor and will go back to help my fellow Kenyans," she said.

Students like Sharifu are the luckiest ones. Every year, only around ten Kenyans get scholarships to study in China. But, for those who do not catch hold of the opportunity, assistance is still available.

Chinese professors have been working at the Egerton University in central Kenya, teaching Kenyan students on agriculture and the Chinese language.

The university also has a biological laboratory with all its equipment provided by China. The Sino-Kenyan Horticultural Technology Cooperation Center on the same campus is the best of its kind in Kenya and even in the whole east Africa.

Last December, with the help of China's Ministry of Education, the University of Nairobi became Africa's first varsity to establish a full-fledged institute to teach Chinese as a foreign language.

The so-called Confucius Institute is funded mainly by the Chinese government, which provides lectures, textbooks, teaching equipment, etc.

While officially launching the institute, Prof. George Maghoha, vice chancellor of the University of Nairobi, urged students to make themselves future-oriented and place themselves strategically and economically benefit from the fruits of studying the Chinese language.

"This is a precession of collaborations with Chinese learning institutions. We will partner in providing more courses in science and engineering," he said.

China's Ambassador to Kenya Guo Chongli hailed the launch of the institute as a significant milestone in the history of Sino- Kenyan educational exchange.

It will help more Kenyan students and get them fully prepared before applying for Chinese scholarships, said the diplomat.

Chinese is one of the six languages used at the United Nations and spoken by at least one fifth of the global population. And with China's economy booming, many in the world say, "we'd better learn the Chinese language and culture."

So does the Chinese-speaking Kenyan tour guide, George Obara, who believes that learning Chinese not only helps peoples of the two countries to better understand each other, but also opens more job opportunities for Kenyans.

And his own story proves that's nothing but the truth.

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