This is the family of Chief Nwange. He and his family lost all their livestock in last year’s drought. Through our animal program, we provided this family two goats and four chickens to begin again.
BY ROSEMARY FETTER
Julie Manuel is one of those exceptional people who not only make the world a better place but inspire others to do the same. A sixth grade Language Arts teacher at Falcon Bluffs Middle School in Jefferson County, she embarked upon an adventure in 2009 when she decided to spend a summer doing volunteer work in a third world country.
“I had been to Kenya once before and my heart has always bent to Africa. Fortunately, I found an organization that places professionals all over the world, called the Global Volunteer Network,” she recalled. “I told them I was a teacher, had six weeks, and wanted to be placed somewhere that nobody else wanted to go.”
That “somewhere” turned out to be in the Great Rift Valley of southwest Kenya, on the edge of the Serengeti Desert. Life in the village of Oloshso-oibor is primitive. The people live in mud huts with no water and no electricity, and their economy is totally livestock-based. And, until Julie arrived, they only had one government school with five teachers and 600 students.
“The village is governed by six elected chiefs, some more progressive than others, and people older than 40 have no education,” she said. “Polygamy is still the rule, although some take pride in having only one wife. While the Maasai cling to their traditions, it is through education that the youth are changing and improving their lives.”
Julie connected with Mama Sheila, a teacher at the government school. “I noticed that every night she would take the same five kids home, and work with them separately in her chicken coop” she said. “It seemed to me that we already had the beginnings of a school. We called it Ronesa, which means caring community in their language. One of the first things we did was to dig a solar panel well, so the children would have clean water. We built a greenhouse, and began feeding the children twice a day, since many of them were coming to school hungry. We’ve brought in new projects, including an animal raising program for livestock. We’re currently raising funds for a van, since the kids, sometimes as young as three or four, have to walk two hours to get to school.”
These are the original five children that started Ronesa Academy. Mama Shiela would bring them home everyday and work with them in her chicken coop. From left to right: Shadrack, Teacha Juliet, Charles, Joseph, Jemima and Jacline.
To get the children at her school involved, she went the to the PTA board for permission to start a program called Coin for Kenya. “We asked the kids to bring in loose change, leftover coins from their purchases, which we collect once a year to help build a new classroom. By the second year, we had a kindergarten, and each year we have added another class,” she said. “The original five kids (three girls and two boys) will be starting eighth grade and graduating in November. The school has grown to 147 students ages 3 to 8. We now have seven teachers, a different one for every grade, a principal and living quarters, which makes everything much more doable.
“Although we focus on educating girls, we also admit boys,” she added. “We are an independent private school whose teachers come from the Maasai community, which deflects any perception that we are Western-driven. Our school is English-speaking only. Parents pay tuition although many have scholarships. We teach the children about other cultures and expose them to what’s going on in the world.”
In Kenya, the government doesn’t support education past the eighth grade, and everything after that means boarding school. If parents happen to have funds for secondary school, they will spend it on the boys rather than the girls. If a girl doesn’t get a scholarship or sponsor, her education is over.”
“Through our school, many of girls have learned to find their voice, and want to continue education,” she said. “They come here to avoid early marriage or possibly be sold in exchange for livestock. Female mutilation is still practiced in some places. Last year, the children of Ronesa performed a drama in front of their parents and elders literally called, We will not be cut or be child brides anymore! It was powerful and surely gave a voice to the voiceless.”
People in this country have no idea of what global community looks like, she added. For the past few years she’s brought students with parents, former students and others to expose them to third worldW issues. They go out among the community and develop relationships with the people. Often they have culture shock when they get home.
“It has been a wonderful experience during the last eight years of teaching,” she said. “It has been such a blessing to be an agent of change, but even more rewarding watching our students and families here learn how to care for their global community! The world is not so large and intimidating when you know the name of someone on the other side of the world.”
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