Simbolei Community Assistance Association

The Value of Picture Books

October 22nd, 2018

Every summer during our Literacy Outreach activities, we visit six local elementary schools near Simbolei, sharing stories and donating picture books. While most American children have access to picture books either at home or at school, our donations are often the first picture books that the Kenyan students have encountered. In this video, a local head teacher, Jen Kibii of Yokot Primary School, explains why picture books matter to the pupils at her school.


We hope you will consider joining us for Literacy Outreach 2019. Dates and details are coming soon. If you can’t visit with us in person, remember that we accept donations of gently used children’s books and crayons also.

Boarding Schools and Gender Equity: A Teacher’s View

October 12th, 2018

Video Link: Head Teacher: Jen Kibii

As we plan Simbolei Academy, American supporters sometimes ask “why a boarding school? Shouldn’t girls be living at home?” Kenyan educators, however, fully support boarding schools as the most effective means for girls to obtain a quality education. The headteacher of Yokot Primary school, one of our cooperating elementary schools, explains why girls need the space and quiet that boarding schools provide, allowing them to focus on their studies instead of on their many family obligations.

Our Last Summer Abroad

September 12th, 2018

As the weather turns to fall here in Michigan, we can look back on a busy, productive summer for Simbolei and look forward to our finishing our construction and curriculum planning. By this time next year, Richard and I expect to be on the ground working with staff and faculty to prepare for the opening of Simbolei Academy in January 2020.

In the meantime, the highlight of our summer, as always, was the Literacy Outreach workshops we conducted at six primary schools near Iten. This year, we used a beautiful felt board created by Diane Marable to illustrate the story of Pretty Salma and Mr. Dog. The puppets we have used in previous years are beautiful but they really require a group to use effectively and this year, it was only myself, Felix Sirma and Sister Lucia Treanor, my colleague from Grand Valley State University who conducted the workshops. Felt board figures were much easier to manipulate and move with our limited personnel. The kids loved it and, needless to say, the crayons and coloring were also very popular.

Hard at work with the crayons.

The felt board.

In addition to our literacy programs, Sister Lucia and I also presented a workshop on techniques for teaching academic writing to faculty at Catholic University of East Africa in Eldoret. At the end of all the teaching and learning, I was able to spend a little quality time around Kamariny with our resident cows.

Simbolei Academy cows.

And so, our last summer of long distance commuting between Michigan and Kenya comes to a close and we prepare to make the huge leap from finishing construction to organizing and opening the school. Thanks for traveling with us. We’ll keep you posted.

Nursery classes at Simbolei Junior Academy.





The Roof is On

March 2nd, 2018

Here it is, folks, the last day of roofing!  At the end of February, we finished the entire roof of the main building. The next construction step will be to begin finishing the walls, doors and windows on the northwest wing, which is at the far right in this picture. These will be the first classrooms for students who will be entering in January 2020.

In the meantime, we will continue to use the “soccer field” to grow maize to help fund construction.

Here in the U.S., volunteers continue to clean, catalog and pack more than 6000 books for the Simbolei Community Library. Also, March 25-31 is our annual Schuler Book Days for Simbolei fundraiser. You can join the fun by shopping at Schuler Books in Okemos, Michigan and saying “Simbolei” at check out. 20% of your purchase price will be donated to Simbolei by Schuler Books. Or, online, you can shop at and enter “KENYA” in the coupon box to donate 20% of your purchase to Simbolei.

Every day we appreciate all you do to help make the dream of Simbolei Academy a reality. Things are happening fast now and Andrea and Richard and family are busy preparing for relocation to Kenya. Let us know if you would like to volunteer or learn more about Simbolei by emailing

Second Floor Is Going Up

December 13th, 2017

I haven’t posted on the blog in a while, but don’t let that fool you, Simbolei has been busy!  We’ve been holding fundraisers (Riffs for the Rift and Alternative Christmas Market) and more importantly, we are now well into winter construction season. Richard K is on the ground in Kenya and working with Felix and the crew of Mr. Majani to prepare the second floor skeleton so we can put on the roof. Here are a couple of recent pictures to bring you up to speed.

Second floor pillars ready to be poured last week.

Richard stands beneath the second floor forms. Soon the roof will be going on.

Progress is slow but steady and we are pleased to have good weather for construction. The high quality of the work being done is evident in the beauty of the finished results.

Finally, we have a new little addition to our dairy herd. Welcome Agnes (daughter of Alsace) to the Simbolei family!

Thank you to all of you who continue to support our journey. As the roof goes on and the plan comes together, we can see our dreams and the dreams of Kamariny community coming true.

Kenya 2017

August 2nd, 2017

Another amazing Literacy Outreach trip has come and gone but now I can relive it all by telling you some of our stories and highpoints. This year, I traveled to Kenya with Joanne W., my neighbor of many years who finally was able to fulfill a long ambition to see our project for herself.

I was thankful to be reminded, shortly after our arrival, that Joanne is also an experienced “theater mom” who was able to get our puppets shipshape before we started visiting schools. She also proved to be an excellent “puppet master,” manipulating all of the characters while I read the story to the kids. For all but one day of the trip, Joanne, Felix and I managed to perform the story and help the kids with the art work with the help of their classroom teachers. It was, as always, lots of fun, even with the scramble to manipulate five puppets with two hands!

Over the next few days I’ll post more details about the fun and interesting adventures of Literacy Outreach 2017.

We Are Building a School: Tunajenga Shule

May 10th, 2017

In planning for Summer Literacy 2017 I realized that due to the excellent English skills of our cooperating teachers and our manager, Felix, my Kiswahili has gotten pretty rusty over the years. I am now on a “crash course” to brush up my basic skills, and thus, the title of today’s post which simply reads “We are building a school” in Kiswahili.

It’s important to remember often that though longterm goals can seem distant, each practical step brings them closer to completion. In January, Richard and the crew finished putting on the second floor “deck.” This summer I hope to move stone for the second floor walls, put in a new water tank to catch rainwater, and repaint the volunteer cottage, along with conducting our literacy outreach workshops. I will be joined by two or three volunteers this year, so we will keep busy.

I’ll be posting more about summer preparations as we move along. For today, here is a picture Felix took with his phone last winter of our crew putting on the second floor.

A Few of My Favorite Things

February 14th, 2017

Everyone has a passion and since I was a kid, mine has been books. I was lucky that as the seventh of eight children in my family, my house was already full of great books by the time I came along. Not only that, but because my community valued books and education, and because of the generosity of some people I never met, our town had a public library.

Carnegie Library, Denison, Iowa

We also had a school library in each of our public school buildings. All of this was overwhelmed, however, by the sheer size of the library I found at Iowa State University when I headed off to college. And, over the past 2o years I have been able to visit the East Lansing Public Library often with my own kids.

All my life, books have been abundantly available to me. When we visit the kids in rural primary schools in Kenya, we find that they also are enchanted and delighted by books. But, sadly, their access is limited. Books are too expensive for most parents to buy. There are no public libraries within the Iten area and school “libraries” usually consist of piles of textbooks in a corridor or storage room.

Imagine what an accessible, well supplied community library would mean to these students and their families.

That is why we have decided that an essential component of Simbolei Academy is a community library that will not only be open to the public but will promote literacy through community outreach such as storytimes and workshops.

Currently, I am in the process of cataloging the books people have donated for the library. We can use more books, especially popular science, fiction, poetry and of course, picture books.  Please contact us if you or someone you know has books to donate.

In addition, we are looking for people with a deep commitment to literacy and libraries to help us fund the completion and furnishing of the Simbolei Community Library. This is a big job and we need your help. If you would like more information about gifts to the library fund, please contact us at

I’ll keep you posted about the cataloging. It goes rather slow when my helpers and I have to stop and read every few books.

Luna helps with cataloging and packing books for the Simbolei Library.

So Many Reasons to be Thankful: 2016 in Review

November 25th, 2016

Once again it’s time to look back on the year to review where where we started and where we ended up. It’s been a good year for Simbolei.

In January, the building crew poured the main staircase and the second floor deck as they wrapped up the building season.

Showing the main entrance area of the school which will have a balcony on the second floor.

The building crew finished the front entrance pillars and the second floor deck. 

In June and July, we had our biggest volunteer group ever, as 11 people arrived  in Iten to share books, stories and a puppet show with students in seven nearby primary schools.  Volunteers also toured local attractions and explored Iten, including participating in or spectating at the Iten Marathon.

Teachers with the puppets and the storybook.

Teachers with the puppets and the storybook.


Back in Michigan, Schuler Books and Music in Okemos hosted a successful fundraiser during the release party for Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.  Schuler Books contributed 30% of sales during the release party to Simbolei, raising over $4600 for construction and literacy programs!

Schuler Books employees present Andrea and Richard Kaitany with the donation.

Schuler Books employees present Andrea and Richard Kaitany with the donation.

October brought Riffs for the Rift, another great community event with food, music and lots of support for Simbolei.


Volunteers from East Lansing High School at Riffs for the Rift


Guests enjoy a Kenyan meal at Riffs for the Rift.

Deacon Earl and the Congregation were the highlight of the evening. They've promised to come back next year, bigger and better.

Deacon Earl and the Congregation entertain at Riffs for the Rift. 

Now, we are rolling into December once again. Richard Kaitany will leave for Kenya on December 1st to continue construction on Simbolei Academy. Progress on Simbolei Academy and our literacy outreach has been consistent and steady thanks to all of you for y0ur support. By this time next year we hope to be finishing up construction and organizing curriculum and hiring staff. The journey to this point has been wonderful, but the best is yet to come.

Riffs for the Rift Does It Again!

October 24th, 2016

Saturday we hosted our annual benefit night, Riffs for the Rift. Deacon Earl and the Congregation, the Lo Fi Steppers, Amanda Smith and Jelimo Kaitany all provided live music that included blues, reggae and classical. We had a huge tableful of delicious Kenyan food. Most importantly, everyone gave generously to support education and we raised over $1000 for Simbolei!

We want to thank everyone who came out and donated to the cause, the musicians who volunteered their time and talents, the cook and the food servers and the East Lansing High School National Honor Society students led by their chapter president, Taylor Murray, who helped with everything from serving food to moving tables. It was a wonderful evening of food and music. Best of all, we met our winter construction budget!  So, Richard will be departing for Kenya soon to finish pouring the second floor concrete.

If you or a group you belong to would be interested in hosting a benefit activity for Simbolei, please let us know. It is a great way to get friends together for a pleasant evening and help Simbolei at the same time.




The Great Rift Valley is part of a huge tectonic rift in the earth's crust that also created the Red Sea and the valley of the Jordan River.

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Simbolei Girls Secondary School, Kenya