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Scholarship set up to remember Gwangju expat Michael Simning

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Published : 2014-03-25 21:03
Updated : 2014-03-25 21:03

A scholarship to help female high school graduates in Kenya has been set up in memory of Gwangju expat Michael Simning, who died in February aged 39.

The scholarship will support vocational training for girls who finish high school in Kenya’s Ndwara community, which Simning had been involved in helping.

Margaret Law, Simning’s mother, said that she and her son had talked about helping girls in the community through vocational training.

“In that part of Africa, girls don’t get any training. There’s very few options for them, and so we were trying to look at ways that girls could get some training that would then make them employable,” she said.
Michael Simning. (Gwangju Foreigners’ Network)

“Michael was very community-oriented and he and I had had this huge conversation about when he was better that he was going to come to Africa with me, because he was very interested in education for girls,” said Law. “We all have our different passions and that was one of his real interests, and he wanted to come and see how he could get involved with that.”

She said that Simning had helped organize fund-raising events to help build a library in Ndwara, and had run a drive to collect foam rubber slippers to send to the area, where many children did not have shoes.

Money for the scholarship is being raised through a gofundme.com project run by Nancy Harcar, a friend of Simning’s who said that he got her involved in volunteering.

“I’ve been in Gwangju five years, and like most people, he was one of the first people I met when I came to town, because he was one of the owners of the First Alleyway restaurant where everybody found their way to,” she said.

“Once you met him, he got to know you and found out what your interests were. He really got a lot of people involved and started in volunteering in the community. … So many people met Mike Simning because of the restaurant and because of the store, but then he introduced people around and made connections and kind of really made the community.”

Harcar said that a lot of people had wanted to donate to the family and do various things to remember Simning, a well-known figure in the city’s expat community who also was a radio host for Gwangju Foreigners’ Network and the founder of Gwangju Blog. But after discussing it with the family, she decided to set up the scholarship project.

“(Donating to the family) wasn’t something that we wanted or needed, and that wasn’t something that Michael would have wanted, I don’t think,” said Law. “What we are trying to do is something where people who knew Michael would say, ‘Oh yeah, that would be Mike.’”

Simning became involved with Ndwara through his mother, who is a librarian. She decided to help build a library there after a librarian from Ndwara, who was working in Tanzania, visited her in Canada as part of a work project and told her that the area did not have a library.

Law said that drought, HIV and other factors had caused severe poverty in Ndwara.

“They were traditionally farmers, but the droughts have wiped out huge amounts of what was there and people have struggled to get back on their feet. And there’s no electricity, and there’s no running water, so people are really cut off,” she said. “That’s one of the reasons we started a library, because without information people really miss a lot of opportunities … that are out there.”

She said that the roof of the library was expected to be completed this year. Other community-building initiatives have started up, including a secondary school, with tuition sponsored by people in Canada.

“We have had some start-up businesses that have come out of this project and we are very proud of that,” she added.

The Simning scholarship will pay for one girl a year who finishes the new school to go to a nearby college for professional training.

“The idea is to focus on the applicants who plan on staying in the Ndwara community in the future, so that the community is basically self-sustaining and helping themselves through community involvement,” said Harcar.

For more details on the scholarship, or to donate, visit www.gofundme.com/Mike-Simning-Scholarship.

By Paul Kerry (paulkerry@heraldcorp.com)

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