As fate would have it, last school year, Ben was asked to give a tour of the school where he teaches to several Kenyans working to create a school outside Nairobi. As he walked around campus with the Beverly School of Kenya’s founder Abdi Lidonde, Ben was inspired by what he heard. By the end of the tour, Ben had decided to go to Africa this summer to offer whatever help he could.
This is the forty acre piece of land where the school is to be built. It will be self sustaining with the students helping to raise the food for the school during their vacations. The soil is very fertile and the climate perfect for year round agriculture. They will have farm animals as well as garden plots.
The Beverly School of Kenya, set to open in the fall of 2008, is named for Beverly Lidonde, an indomitable woman who raised twenty five children. Her son Abdi emigrated to America and put himself through college by working as a night janitor at Holy Cross in Worcester, MA. Eventually Abdi became the head of the physical plant at Holy Cross.
At a certain point in his life, Abdi and another fellow Kenyan and childhood friend named Alice Mudiri decided they wanted to give back something to Kenya. They came up with the idea of building a boarding school. Initially they hoped to build a school large enough to educate and house ten students, but with the help and encouragement of other people, especially an American named Tom Maher, the Beverly School will someday educate and give a home to up to three hundred students.
Here is Alice Mudiri, interviewing potential students in Masaii land.
Children going to the school will be children either without parents due to the AIDS epidemic or children who would never get a chance to get educated because of the financial situation of their family. While education is technically free in Kenya, children must buy books and uniforms, items way out of reach of most Kenyans.
When Ben and his girlfriend Megan went to Kenya this summer, they helped Alice to travel around the countryside interviewing children interested in going to the Beverly School. Their travels with Alice and the other Kenyans working to create this school so inspired Ben and Megan that they plan to return, hopefully next summer. Ben wants to return to Kenya with a film crew. He is intent on making a film about the school in order to help get funds for the project. And Megan? Megan is learning Swahili so she can talk to everyone more easily.
Not that her lack of Swahili seems to have slowed down her communication with all the children she met! Here she shares bubbles with some new friends.
The Beverly School will educate children from kindergarten age through twelfth grade. However, Abdi and Alice feel strongly about not separating siblings so if a sibling group contains a child younger than kindergarten, he or she will be taken care of at the school until ready for kindergarten. Abdi and Alice feel very strongly about keeping siblings together because this is all the family that most of their students have left.
Here are the first two children set to enroll at the Beverly School. When Hilary and Vincent met Abdi Lidonde and Tom Maher they were orphans living in a three foot box in the Kisumu slums near Lake Victoria. They were eight and ten. Though they had no family and were not related to each other, they had formed an intense bond and worked to keep each other alive. When they saw Abdi and Tom, they decided to follow them out of the slum and take their chances that these two would take care of them. The strategy worked and they are now being taken care of by friends of Abdi’s until the school opens next fall.
Megan and Ben went with Alice to the slums of Kisumu to interview potential students. This was the heart of their visit to Kenya.
This young mother was near death from AIDS. It took her many minutes to sit up for this conversation with Alice. Her great anxiety was the fate of her two children and Alice promised to enroll both children at the Beverly School and see that when she died, the two children would get care and shelter until the school opens next fall.
When Ben and Megan returned to Kisumu the next day, they could see the peace that Alice had given this mother.
Her children would be saved.
Ben and Megan learned that virtually all the adults in the Kisumu slum have AIDS. A woman going door to door selling food helped Alice know the most dire situations in need of immediate attention in her part of the slum.
Together they moved through the endless slum hearing one heart breaking story after another and meeting children and adults of the most incredible courage.
These two had found themselves jobs at age two and four and then eventually found a home with a friend of Abdi’s family.
Ben and Megan were struck by how the younger children had such hope while the older children had begun to understand exactly how bad their situation was.
While most of the younger children seemed to miraculously find some joy in their lives, this family was extremely subdued. Alice discovered they had not eaten in several days and were about to be evicted from the windowless cell where they lived.
Food was sent for and while they ate, everyone heard their story. When the woman’s husband died of AIDS, she became the possession of her husband’s brother. When she told her brother in law that she would not sleep with him because of her AIDS, she was thrown out by his family and her brother in law took her sewing machine which had been her livelihood.
She started to sell roasted corn by the roadside but an AIDS shot she was given to slow the course of the disease made it impossible for her to use her arm and she was no longer able to make even this small amount of money for her family. Megan gave each of these children one of the bears I had knit, but this was a tragedy that needed much more than that.
As I looked at Megan and Ben’s slides and heard these stories, I found myself so awed by Abdi and Alice’s ability to navigate the overwhelming situation of their country without despair. Instead, they have a plan. It is to not just a plan to offer temporary relief in the form of a meal here or there, but a long term plan to give a group of children lives.
Abdi noted that educating children at the Beverly School would affect way more people than just the students of the school. He told Ben that Kenya was such a small country and education was considered such an important thing, that each of the children educated at the school would go back into their society with a tremendous amount of status. This would give each of the graduates of the Bevery School the potential to make great positive changes in their communities.
When Ben and Megan travelled to the savannah to Masai land they noticed that the one educated man in the Masaii community where they went was looked to by the rest of the group in just the way Abdi had explained it.
The gentleman in the grey suit is the man who was educated and therefore the de facto leader of the group.
Masaii had travelled for days to meet with Alice. Megan who listened to each interview was impressed with how articulate the children were about their desire and RIGHT to an education.
Meanwhile, Ben wanted to set off overland into the savannah. He said he had never been anywhere that had called to him as loudly.
This was true for rhino too.
If you would like to support the Beverly School of Kenya in any way, contact them at www.beverlyschoolofkenya.com
If you would like to be a part of a project to knit a small stuffed lion animal for the bed of each child at the school or help with an effort to sew a quilt for each child’s bed at the school, please contact me, Molly Sheehan at our email address of [email protected] THANK YOU!