The Magic in the Air

December 21, 2012 | Len Morris

For the past ten years we have run a small educational program in Kenya called The Kenyan Schoolhouse. In 2012, there were 37 students whose educations were being paid for by caring people on the other side of the world.

For a Maasai girl of 14, whose father is likely to trade her future for a marriage dowry of three cows, the program is a lifeline. For former child laborers from the coffee or tea sectors, KSH sponsorship means a chance to leave 14-hour workdays and pesticides behind for study enabled by the security of a boarding school environment.

The program is a partnership with one of the leading African NGOs, ANPPCAN, a pan-African organization with chapters all over the continent, similar in mission to UNICEF.

Since 2002, hundreds of young people have attended primary and secondary school through the support of Kenyan Schoolhouse.  When you give a young woman a chance to educate herself, rather than become a child bride, she takes it. Just listen to Deborah Kamene, who wants to be a surgeon, in our short film KIMANA, made at a school in Maasailand where there are six of our sponsored children. Deborah told me that she’d perform brain surgery on me, should I ever need it. I assured her I’d prefer our current relationship of student and sponsor.

Today, there are seven graduates of our program in college, seven young men and women who were picking coffee or living on the streets a lifetime ago whose degrees will be in chemistry, architecture, business and engineering. Other graduates study tailoring and hairdressing to prepare them for jobs and enable to support themselves and their families.

Three times a year tuition comes due. It’s not a mountain of money but it’s a sufficient amount to worry over.  Christmas is one of those three occasions when school fees come due. The school term resumes January 7th in Kenya. Fees must be paid before the term starts and our students are in schools all over the country. Books and uniforms have to be acquired; some kids will need remedial help and there’s even a need to cover transportation costs, since our students normally can’t afford food, let alone the luxury of education.

So the prospect of failing these students is quite a motivator for those of us who work year round to raise the money and it produces a kind of infectious spirit that has touched many people in our community. Businesses donate counter space for collection boxes; people buy holiday cards, dance at our Holiday Ball or learn about child labor in their schools, churches or libraries and each of these efforts contributes something toward paying the school fees. Hundreds of our neighbors make small donations; a half dozen families sponsor children for the year. We are always surprised by how the money never fails to materialize in time, part work and part magic… it takes some of both, along with a certain amount of faith.

Last week we got some very good news when we learned that The Kenyan Schoolhouse was selected by Operation Days Work to receive a ten thousand dollar grant to support our KSH students in Kenya in 2013. Seven public and private schools in Massachusetts and Vermont, who comprise Operation Days Work, voted to commit themselves to the project’s support through volunteer projects. ODW has been supported a remarkable range of projects all over the world since 1999 and these efforts have changed the arc of many lives.

So, Kenyan Schoolhouse will have a new partner for the upcoming year and best of all, they are middle and high school students, like their Kenyan counterparts.

“ODW strives to teach students and people everywhere that youth in less fortunate countries are no different than in the United States. These students need an education to change their situation and their country. Knowledge is power.”

So, the foundation for the Kenyan Schoolhouse is broader and deeper this year with the addition of all this youthful idealism in action. It’s still going to take a lot people to make the school fees materialize, as it always has, but this year…. there’s magic in the air!

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