The only opportunity they have of escaping poverty is through education.
Those words were seared into my consciousness as I conducted my doctoral research for the University of Vermont in 2007 – riding around Kenya boda-boda style on the back of my interpreter’s bicycle, meeting with villagers and teachers in Lanet in order to explore the connection between the primary school and the surrounding village. I was learning about the way this relationship affected the reciprocal development of one with the other.
In looking at the ways that the community affected the school, I examined how the villagers supported the school. From the school’s perspective, I pursued questions related to improved housing, the creation of new employment, and the general quality of life in the village. As I interviewed parents, shopkeepers and teachers in this poverty-stricken area, one after another strongly supported the existence of the school, saying that the only hope that the next generation had of escaping the poverty that surrounded them would be through receiving an education.
I agreed with them, but wondered about the older children I saw walking on the road or working in the fields, kids who were obviously too old for elementary school but too young to be a part of the workforce. I learned that they were mainly orphans, children whose parents had died from AIDS, or car accidents (a primary killer in Kenya), or tribal warfare. Most of them lived with family members, but these families were already paying for other children to attend secondary school and couldn’t afford to pay school fees for another child who wasn’t a part of their immediate family. The big question that kept coming back to me was what will happen to these children if they don’t have the opportunity to receive an education?
Primary school is free in Kenya, but secondary school is not. For many Kenyan youth, my question was moot. These children are from families who can afford to send them to secondary school. But for hundreds of orphans, 8th grade is the end of the line. These children wind up at home caring for their younger cousins, or in the fields alongside adults, tilling the soil for the rest of their lives. Opportunity and hope snuffed out at the age of 12. I knew there had to be a way to help these children, but didn’t have the resources to make it happen.
Toward the end of 2009 our church built a secondary school next to Lanet Umoja Primary School and named it Bishop Edward Donovan Secondary School (BEDSS) after the late Bishop Edward V. Donovan of Pittsburgh, PA. The school opened with 75 students, 5 of whom were orphaned. In the following years the enrollment grew, and each year a few more orphans joined the ranks. They were being supported by funds raised at Juniper’s Fare, our church–run restaurant in Waterbury, Vermont, but resources there were hitting the proverbial ceiling. In 2012, two years after EC was incorporated and established as a 501(c) (3), I conducted the first EC School Tour with several teachers from a local primary school in Vermont. They were amazed at what they saw, both in the schools and villages. At the end of the trip each one of them pledged to support between one and as many as seven high school students who otherwise would not have been able to go to school. The BEDSS sponsorship program had begun! Since 2012, 12-orphaned students have had the opportunity to graduate from BEDSS, receiving a high school education, thanks mainly to the generosity of people like you who are reading this blog.
This December, two of the students we have been supporting will graduate from BEDSS. These students have also been a part of EC’s first Mentorship Program for secondary students. I asked William Aludo, EC’s Program Coordinator to get each of them a gift, a token showing that we are proud of them for completing the mentoring program as well as four years of higher school. He asked them what they could use. Apart from asking for more education (driving lessons and additional schooling for computer skills), Alice said she needed a basic cell phone, and Anthony said he could use a pair of shoes. William was able to bring a phone with him to Nakuru last week, but as the photos show below, at the time of his visit he had not yet gone shopping for shoes with Anthony.
I am humbled by their requests and wish in my heart that we could do more for them. Ultimately however, I’m grateful that we have had the opportunity to give them something that they will have for the rest of their lives. Each of them has gained skills, relationships, and understandings that would not have been theirs if their only choice had been to stay at home.
Education in and of itself is not THE answer. But when a child is taught to read, he or she can make up their own mind about some of life’s bigger questions, such as who to vote for, or how to pursue their life’s passion. The greatest gift we can give any child is to provide them with the tools they will need to find success, an opportunity to escape the poverty that is so pervasive in their world. To that end we have created the EC Student Sponsorship Program that funds the education of any orphaned student attending Bishop Donovan Secondary School.
In 2017 there will be 8 orphaned students in their final year at Bishop Edward Donovan Secondary School. Their tuition costs are $250 per student. If you would like to help them to complete their education, please CLICK HERE to make a secure online donation, or send your check or money order to Everyone’s Child, Inc., 19304 Cole Road, Conneautville, PA 16406. (Please note that this is a new address as I moved to PA in June!) Your gift makes a huge impact in the lives of these young men and women who are just starting their life’s adventure. By giving them the gift of an education, you are giving them a chance to escape poverty in their lifetime.
With warmest wishes,
Ruth Young, Ed.D.
“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”
– Nelson Mandela