IT IS WHERE THE BUTTERFLIES GO – King University Student Profile
“I grew up in an orphanage from about three months old until it was time for high school. But if you were a good student, they sent you to a boarding school to study. That is where I went.”
Kakamega, Kenya is the home to one of Africa’s biggest and most aggressive snakes, the forest cobra. This ophidian can kill within thirty minutes of being bit if envenomation is severe. Stories are prevalent in the area about terrifying attacks by these snakes dropping out of trees and viciously attacking oblivious passers-by. But Kakamega isn’t just known for its 27 different species of snakes including the Black and Green Mamba, Puff Adder, Rinkhals, and the forest Cobra – it also has somewhere in the realm of 400 species of butterflies. It is here that King University student Ivy Natasha was born and raised, surrounded by 160 of her “brothers and sisters.”
Ivy never knew her parents. At around the age of three months old she was dropped off at the Victorus Children’s Home, an orphanage located in Kakamega in western Kenya along the edge of the Great Rift Valley. Born in 2002, at the tail end of fifteen years of ethnic violence that devastated the intra-continental ridge system that passes through western Kenya from north to south, Ivy grew up with 160 other boys and girls whose lives were derailed by circumstance. According to Ivy, the Children’s Home was run by a kind and gentle woman named Victoria Odundo. Though life wasn’t always easy, it wasn’t terrible either. “She took care of us all, she was a nice lady,” Ivy remembers. “But it was very hard.” She didn’t elaborate and didn’t have to. Shy and soft-spoken with a warm glowing smile, Ivy has always been determined to succeed at every facet of her life.
She studied hard in school and when the opportunity to pursue an education in the United States arose, she jumped at the chance. As it turned out, Victoria’s daughter was a student at King. Victoria went through a non-profit organization called Love Share based out of Blountville, Tennessee. Ivy arrived in East Tennessee and found that assimilating into the college life and learning about the different culture was actually easier than she anticipated. “It was good, everyone is nice,” she said with a smile. “It is easier to make friends, and everyone is friendly. They help you when you need help.”
But at the time Ivy didn’t have enough money to attend school. She applied for the dance scholarship which she received and was also awarded an academic scholarship, and with the two of them she was able to fulfill her dreams of going to college in the U.S. Ivy feels very appreciative to those donors that help hardworking students like her succeed. The founder of Love Share, Melinda Upchurch, a friend of Victoria Odundo, became Ivy’s “host” family and took her in when she initially arrived. Melinda and her family have nurtured her development in the United States, providing a safe and warm environment for her so far from her homeland.
Ivy has excelled at King and hopes to remain in the U.S. and become a nurse. Between her work ethic, determination, and gentle disposition, the future is wide open and whoever employs her someday will be getting the best, the kind of graduate that King is known for producing.