Lenana old boy at the service of world’s youth

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Warria (in glasses) with former US President Bill Clinton. His efforts have seen him and his partners duly recognised at the highest levels. /Courtesy of Teddy Warria 

By Wallace Kantai

Posted  Friday, September 11   2009 at  00:00

A few years ago, in a moment of inexplicable hubris, I made a bet with someone that I would meet and have a photo-op with Bill Clinton. (Don’t ask why — it was 2001 and it was a bit of a cloud-cuckoo year for me).


Well, the meeting and the photo-op haven’t happened yet (part of the reason being that I transferred my affections for American politicians to the Chosen One).

But, let’s admit it — the path that I chose for myself is rather different from that of Teddy Warria who, as is obvious from the accompanying photo, has not only met Mr Clinton but also compared shoe preferences.

Teddy is moving in rarefied company, which is no surprise for one as driven as he is. Which is a mild surprise had you met him in the mid-1990s when, as a student and choir member in Lenana School, his demeanour was reserved, hiding burning ambition and steely will behind a reticent persona (although astute people-observers such as the legendary principal S.S. Maneno recognised the potential and began encouraging his oratorical skills).

Inspiring students
Mr Warria collaborates with the Earth Institute at Columbia University in the United States, where he rubs shoulders with such luminaries as Jeffrey Sachs.

He, along with a partner named Grady Powell, founded Common Vocabulary, an initiative geared at helping the world’s youth engage with the issues of the day.

Sounds rather bland when you put it like that, and I apologise that I do not quite capture the ambition of the project.

It even sounds blander if you read some of the Common Vocabulary literature. They espouse their goals as: developing integrated global education materials; aiming at inspiring students to pursue multidisciplinary solutions; and promoting a culture of responsibility and global cooperation.

Plain it may sound, but when you think about it and dig a little deeper, the sheer imposing audacity of it hits you. Let’s put it this way — what issue of the day, by its very definition, does not affect the youth? This is in several important ways.

First, young people will be around longer than anyone else (cue the bitter joke about how Kenya’s Vision 2030 is written by old men who do not realise that they will be around in 2030); secondly, by their sheer weight of numbers, energy and drive, it is imprudent for policymakers and others to not acknowledge the impact the youth will have on the success of their decisions and policies.

So Mr Warria has decided to begin with students (and, again, the more you think about it the more obvious it becomes that this is the right target age group).

The issues of choice revolves around health, which is where Dr Sachs and his Earth Institute come in. If you remember, Jeffrey Sachs has become the global roving ambassador for developmental issues, with health rights at the centre of it.

As a matter of fact, Mr Warria acknowledges that Common Vocabulary is an intellectual offshoot of Dr Sach’s seminal book Common Wealth.

The strategy, according to Mr Warria, is simple but multidimensional. It involves “develop(ing) workshops for high schoolers” in which students are introduced to global issues and their interconnectedness.

The second part involves creating materials — the “common vocabulary”, if you will, which helps the gospel to be spread through success stories, literature, and other methods.

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