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An eighth grader’s experience in Kenya

Sections: Columns Published
By Katie Noll

Special to The Sopris Sun

Jambo! Jina langu ni Katie Noll. That is Swahili for “Hi! My name is Katie Noll.”

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I am a rising eighth grader at the Waldorf School on the Roaring Fork. Each eighth grade student is required to do a project about a topic of interest to them. During my seventh grade year, I began to think about what might interest me and concluded it would be something that would help children less fortunate than myself.

At the same time, my family and I were planning a trip to Kenya. I thought I would unite these two ideas together to create what is now my eighth grade project which is Helping Children in Kenya through Education.

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Last spring, I contacted our Safari guide, Antonio Marangabassa, of Napenda Africa Safaris. Luckily, he also had a passion for education. I asked for some guidance and direction about how I could help children in Kenya. He said we would be visiting a school in a Maasai Village and they needed school supplies, such as pencils and pens, crayons, erasers as well as used t-shirts for the children. I also learned that his wife, Eunice, was the director at Makhanga Hope Academy located in the Bungoma District of Kenya. They also had a lot of similar needs.

During one of our spring assemblies, I made an all school announcement that I would be collecting these items to take with me to Kenya to donate to the children there. The students and families at the Waldorf School on the Roaring Fork were so supportive and provided a plethora of items to donate. I was so grateful and surprised with all that was contributed! We decided to split the donations providing one school with all the used t-shirts and sending the school supplies to the Makhanga Hope Academy.    

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When we arrived at the Maasai Village located in the Amboseli National Park in southern Kenya we were greeted with a traditional song of welcome for us. All the people were wearing traditional clothing with lots of beautiful jewelry they had made themselves. I thought it was really amazing how the tribe created such beautiful music with just their voices. I enjoyed their singing while I watched the sunrise and begin to shine on their smiling and welcoming faces with Mount Kilimanjaro in the background. I already felt connected to them without even knowing their names and excited about what I would be providing for them.

I was surprised by all the differences between my school and their school. There was no running water so they had to use an outhouse. There were two old blackboards, but I did not see any chalk or erasers. But what surprised me the most was to not see any classroom materials in the one room school house. There were no books, school supplies or other classroom materials so often seen in a classroom. Much of the important educational information for the elementary school children was painted on the walls, such as the English alphabet. All children speak Swahili, but they all learn English as well.

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This year in my class we got brand new desks, however, at this school there were maybe five desks for 65 children! It made me realize how lucky we are for all the things we are provided with at our school and all things we do not have to worry about.

After the children presented their ABC’s, sang a tribal song and recited a few things they had learned, I passed out the shirts. I gave a shirt to each child and smiled because I could tell I brought some joy into their life. Each child was excited to get a new shirt and they all immediately tried them on! All the children were so grateful and I could tell how happy they were to receive the generous gifts that our school community had provided. On our ride home, I kept reviewing what had happened in my mind still not believing it was real. It was the most inspiring experience I had ever had! It made me begin to wonder how else I could contribute.

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I asked Antonio to be my mentor for my eighth grade project and he gladly agreed. We began to discuss some of the educational challenges and needs for the Makhanga Hope Academy. I sat down and discussed this further with Eunice, the school’s head director, to gather more information. I did not realize 75 percent of children in Kenya do not finish school due to poverty. I was so surprised to learn that the school had so many basic needs, one of which was a well. The majority of the children who attend this school board there. Some of the children are even orphans. The whole goal of the school is “training Kenya’s next generation of leaders, regardless of gender or ethnicity”.

Water is something I know I take for granted. I turn on the faucet and clean water flows out, but that is just not the case everywhere. These students have to walk two miles to take a shower! The area has been in a three-year drought and therefore the 35 foot hand dug well has dried up and another deeper well needs to be dug to provide water for the school. I found out it will cost about $15,000.

The African Angels Children’s Fund was started by Allan Van Fleet to support the school in different ways for their needs. It is a registered 501(c)(3) non-profit charity. There website is www.african-angels.org/home and you can go there to read more about this school and their story.

This year, for part of my eighth grade project, I have been inspired to contribute to the digging of this well. I am aiming to raise $7,500. I am asking the local community to consider helping me reach my goal. I have already found a person to match the amount I raise!

I am so thankful for everything I am provided with in my life. I have a roof over my head, a bed, clean clothes and clean water along with so many other things that I now realize I have taken for granted. I am hoping to help provide financial contributions that will help build this well for these kids. I want to give them the same opportunities as I have because I believe all children should be able to look through the same window of opportunity as I do in my life. How lucky am I to have been born so fortunate! In my life, I have a goal that I would like to make as much of a difference as I can in the lives of others in a positive and impactful way.   

If you would like to help me in this journey, you can donate money directly to the African Angels Children’s Fund. You can send a check directly to them. Checks can be made out to the African Angels Children’s Fund. Please write “Well-KN” in the memo line. You can mail your check to: 6218 Elm Heights Lane, Suite 201 Houston, TX 77081-2409. You will receive a receipt for your charitable donation you can use for tax purposes. Remember – every dollar you donate will be matched.

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