A LEG UP FOR PRESCHOOLERS

S5000467My first trip to Kenya was a mission trip.  I traveled with a group of missionaries from the Community of the Crucified One based in Pittsburgh, PA in 1997.  We toured the country, starting in an upscale hotel in Nairobi and winding up in pup tents in Masai Mara. Everywhere we went we saw preschool-aged children.  They were either playing, carrying younger children or Kerry cans of water on their backs, or chasing us as we drove through their dusty towns.  “I’ve been with preschoolers for a long time, but I’ve never seen so many little children in my life”, I thought to myself as we bumped along roads that were only passable during the dry season.

students after school in Kiti

Our tour ended in Lanet Umoja, which at that time was 735 acres of grassland 12 miles outside of Nakuru. Our host had brought us there to introduce us an area where a school was needed. Although the region was thinly populated (maybe 50 to 100 families in total), many families were buying plots. Some were escaping tribal warfare in their villages; others were escaping the high prices of city living. There were very few primary schools within that area, and most children had to walk several miles to get to school each day.  A few homes had been built, but the only school we saw was a small preschool that had opened in 1996 with a staff of 3 teachers serving 25 children. The building looked something like a rudimentary American tool shed with brightly painted doors and window shutters and a rusted tin roof.

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Toward the end of the 1990’s the Kenyan government under Daniel arap Moi’s leadership had agreed to assist with teacher salaries, books, and even additional classrooms if communities could find sponsors to help erect primary or secondary school buildings. Our church community in the USA raised funds to build Lanet Umoja Primary School, and followed up ten years later with funding to build Bishop Edward Donovan Secondary School. During those ten years funds were also raised to build two additional primary schools in and around Nakuru. The Kenyan government lived up to its promise of paying teacher salaries, supplying books and materials and providing funds for additional classrooms, and students began filling the classrooms. In 2002, Mwai Kibaki became the third president of Kenya, and in an unprecedented move eliminated school fees for primary school students, opening the door for thousands of children to enter primary school for the first time in their lives. Kenyans would say that this move gave their children a big “leg up” in life.  During this time enrollment at the preschool grew as well, as many families wanted a good start for their children. However, the Kenyan government’s building assistance and any other funding was restricted to primary and secondary schools and did not include preschool education.

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Twenty years have gone by since my first visit, and in that time the “village” of Lanet Umoja has grown from a few hundred people to over 28,000 residents.  The first school we built has grown from a hundred children to an enrollment well over a thousand students.  A chapel (Holy Cross Prayer Community) and a mission house were built for the missionaries who came from our church community in the USA to help introduce people to the Franciscan life that our church offers.  Today there are nine active church outreaches in Kenya that are connected with our community and Holy Cross Prayer Community in Lanet Umoja.

The original preschool building is still being used, holding approximately 75 children, several of whom are orphaned, in three small classrooms. The walls, like an old shed, have cracks where daylight streams in during warm weather, and wind and rain also make their way in during the cooler, rainy months. The windows have no glass or screens to keep bugs and other flying creatures out. Children nap on dirt floors, lined up like canned sardines between rows of rickety wooden tables and chairs. It’s not an ideal setting for early childhood learning by any stretch of the imagination.  As the director of a thriving preschool program in Vermont for 25 years I am well aware of the regulations surrounding early childhood education in much of the USA.  Like their American counterparts, these Kenyan preschoolers have the same need for a good start in school, yet their parents and teachers lack the resources to provide an adequate learning environment for them.

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Five years ago we heard of a disastrous incident where African killer bees were discovered near the preschool building when some children inadvertently disturbed their nest during their recess time. The bees responded immediately and with a vengeance. All of the children and staff were stung many times over, and one little boy lost his life due to multiple stings. Children who ran inside the preschool found no refuge since the cracks in the building and lack of window screens provided little to no protection from the angry bees. This event alone is a strong argument for the need for a local health clinic, which is currently in the works. But it also presents a very good reason for building a sound structure for these children where they can be safe as they learn.

This year Everyone’s Child is committed to raising funds toward a new preschool building for the children of Lanet Umoja. Our goal is to raise $22,000.00, which will allow us to build two of the three classrooms that are needed.  The blessing in all of this is that the pastor and members of Holy Cross Prayer Community have made a commitment to partner with us by raising the funds needed to build one of these classrooms too!

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“Our children are our future,” is a saying that people use all over the world. I believe giving children a solid foundation in their early years is paramount to their future as adults, beginning with a safe place for them to learn.  I invite you to join us in making a difference in the lives of these preschoolers by contributing to the Lanet Umoja Preschool Campaign. These children are the future citizens of Kenya and our world. Together, let’s give them the leg up they need to succeed!

To make a secure donation via PayPal online, please click on the “Donate” button on any of the pages on this website. You can also send a check made out to “Everyone’s Child” to 20 Vermont Route 100 South, Moretown, VT 05660.  (Please write “preschool building” in the memo section of your check.)

Faith on a swing

Thank you for your support for everyone’s child!