By Dr. Gideon K. Kilonzo
While visiting rural Kalawa, Kenya, one is struck by the bleak living conditions of the people in contrast to the beauty and allure of Africa. Mud, thatched homes, crude outhouses (many homes without), no electricity, compromised water sources . . . all speak to the glaring poverty of people with limited resources, limited employment, limited healthcare, and limited education.
At the Kalawa Market young people are everywhere; standing about, talking, . . . hoping, waiting with a longing in their eyes for something to do: to see who gets off a small public transport bus that has just arrived from the capital city, Nairobi. Perhaps someone they know will alight; someone who has news, someone who may be able to buy them a cup of tea; or, for the hope of getting leads for employment. Many have all but given up looking for work and resigned themselves to being dependent upon the kindness of their relatives and other people for support.
The squalor of the market place’s unpaved streets littered with sugar cane fibers; banana leaves; peels and rinds from fruits; corn cobs and husks; and plastic bags and paper confront one’s senses. This is a scene that strikes me every time I return home for a visit since first living in the US since the early 1970’s. With the burgeoning population of recent years, these conditions are now rampant.
Two observations that continue to strike me each time I return to Kenya to visit are: how eager young people are to obtain an education and the extreme lack of educational resources available. Young people want to talk with me and ask me questions about education in the US; if a sponsor can be found, if they can travel and go to school in America.
At such times, I have wondered if resources could be available, if these students could have a school library, full of books . . . they could and would devour books . . . devour learning . . . and lift themselves up from poverty to prosperity . . . or, at the very least, to a more successful and fulfilling life. Every time I visit my village I wonder what I can do to help improve the situation.
As a career educator since the mid 1970’s, I purport that education plays a vital part in any solution toward improving the lives of a rural village. I think if people have the opportunity for a good education, they can learn how to find or create resources wherever they live.
In September 30, 2011, I registered Kalawa Library and School Project, as a non-profit organization in South Dakota. My idea was and is to raise funds to build a library and later a K-8 elementary school.
In October 2011, I was determined to start a library. I felt strongly that if there was a library in Kalawa, it would be a good start toward doing something that could improve the community. The community could have reading materials and subsequently discover ideas that would transform their lives. I thought the library could be used as a place where community members would meet, hold forums, where they could discuss community issues, concerns and solutions.
I felt that by starting with the library the community would benefit as a whole. This would create the desire for an elementary school. Since many students don’t go on to high school . . . my thinking was that by offering a good elementary education with career exploration and skill development in the upper grades, it would provide a chance for the youth to change the trajectory of their lives and that of their community.
October of 2011, I shipped a few books and traveled to Kenya. We refurbished a farm storage building, making it into a library. We invited youngsters to spend a couple of days learning about the library and reading books. Students were excited to know that they could take a book that they liked home with them for a few days to read at leisure. The library officially opened on December 16, 2011. Paula, Nancy Herrick, Daphni Clifton, and I continue to collect library books in the US and Canada to ship to Kenya to continue developing the first community library in the village of Kalawa, Makueni, Kenya.
In addition to the library project, the second part of this project, St. Joseph Academy, a Demonstration School was my dream. The same month the library opened, a couple of parents approached me and expressed their great need for a school. January, 2012, St Joseph Academy was established and Pre-K-2 classes were begun. Today we have a Pre-K-6 school with 62 students.
In June of this year, 2014, Nancy Herrick, Paula Kilonzo and I are looking forward to traveling to Kenya to educate teachers, parents, non-teaching staff, and the school board in intensive training in Choice Theory.
Our hope and dream is that St Joseph Academy will become the first Glasser Quality School in Kenya.
Laptop and Kindle Drive
The second purpose of our trip this summer is to deliver more library books and school resource materials. We will work alongside the teachers and the school board providing support for the students and the school. In addition, we will demonstrate different methods of teaching, and hold talks with parents to discuss ideas that the parents can use to support their students and the school.
Neither the school nor the library has technology at this time e.g. computers, I-pads, kindles . . . We are requesting anyone who has a kindle, I-pad, a laptop that is available for donation, to donate them to the Kalawa Library and School Project. These will be refurbished, books will be downloaded and teaching activities and educational games will be installed. Finally, these will be delivered to students and teachers in Kalawa.
Mail these items to:
Gideon K. Kilonzo
1016 N. Sycamore Avenue
Sioux Falls, SD 57110
Volunteers- Travel to Kalawa, Kenya
There has been great interest and a recommendation to add another component to the Kalawa Library and School Project: a trip to Kalawa, Kenya in July of each year for hands-on experience for volunteers toward building and supporting the library and school project.
Opportunity for Global Service:
Each summer, in July, volunteers are invited to join us in Kenya, (at their own expense) for a hands-on experience with the Kalawa Library and School Project. Volunteer opportunities include: teaching a class, organizing the library, teaching a sewing or cooking class, teaching a sustainable farming class, sharing cultural experiences, sharing crafts, etc. We are happy to suggest additional tourist activities during your visit to Kenya: exploring the city of Nairobi, the Bomas of Kenya, Nairobi National Park, the Nairobi Museum, a safari game drive in Masai Mara . . .
Please feel free to ask questions or make suggestions for other activities that might be interesting to consider. Don’t hesitate to let me know how we might assist you in planning your visit to Kenya. Group airfares and accommodation will be available.
If you have questions, you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
or phone: 605-842-5704
Building the four-classroom building. Completed 2013 and now in use!