Simbolei Community Assistance Association

Archive for the ‘Boarding schools’ Category

Building Progress: The Outside Walls are Done

Saturday, March 9th, 2019

I’ll get back to library organzing and household packing next week, but this week we got a whole crop of new photos from Richard showing the finished exterior walls.

Side Entrance to the library/laboratory section of the building.

Interior courtyard where we will hold morning assembly.

As you can see, the construction scaffolding is still in place or scattered around, but we will soon have that cleared away. I couldn’t wait to show you the beautiful building.

The next step will be building interior partitions which are of cement block rather than stone. Then windows will go in and we will be ready for electrical wiring, tiling and painting. The crew has already started on some of the interior partitions.

Richard standing within the interior walls of my future office!

The main stairwell now has walls too.

Richard will have one more week in Kenya to wrap things up, including arrangements for the arrival of our shipping container of library books, lab equipment and personal effects, ensuring the cottage and building site have good security while he is in the US, arranging medical insurance, transportation etc, etc for our final relocation to Kenya in July. Felix Sirma continues to be our right hand man and amazing family friend. We could not do it without him.

We also could not do this without all of you, our friends, family and supporters. Keep sending your encouragment, keep praying if you do that, and, as always, financial support is always welcome. Your generosity of time, talent and resources is an inspiration to us.

We have some new and exciting volunteer activities coming up in the fall of 2019 and winter of 2020, so if you’ve been contemplating joining us in Kenya for a couple of weeks, a month, or a couple of months, a year, whatever, stay tuned. I will have more information about these activities in the next few weeks.  If you can’t wait that long, send me an email at or on Facebook at Simbolei Academy and I will fill you in. Happy planning!


Our Solid Foundation: The Beginnings of the Simbolei Vision

Saturday, February 23rd, 2019

Richard is still in Kenya, so absorbed in getting as much done as possible before he comes back to the States in March that he hasn’t sent any pictures lately. Here in Michigan, I’m sorting, packing and cleaning. I had planned to write a post about the bittersweet task of packing up, but haven’t been able to get my thoughts together. So, this week I’m going to take a little stroll down Memory Lane to where Simbolei began, way back in July 1998.

1998, Richard and I had been married 14 years and had three kids, but we had never travelled to Kenya as a family and the trip was overdue. So, when I got offered a reasonably well paying job for the fall semester, we decided it was time to spend a summer in Kenya. We packed up 10 year old Kipchumba, six year old Kibor and almost four year old Jerotich and flew across the world.

The biggest event of the trip was a ceremony at Richard’s family home to welcome the kids and me officially into the family. There was dancing, singing, and food, but the most significant moments were when Richard’s family dressed the kids and me in new clothes they had provided. This act, which is a variation on an ancient marriage ritual, indicates that from now on, we are to find our shelter, our clothing, all of our needs, within the shelter of the family of “Kapsesia,” the official name of Richard’s family lineage. Jerotich didn’t grasp the ritual significance, but she really like the ruffly dress which my sister in law, Magrina, wife of Richard’s oldest brother, is helping her with in this picture. 

We also visited Richard’s primary school, Chelingwa Primary, and donated a small box of books. This box was the first of many, many books that I would present to primary school head teachers in villages around the area over the years. Although we didn’t know it at the time, it was a day of great significance. During the conversations and small speeches in the staff room after the book presentation, Kenneth Kipchoge, then headmaster of Chelingwa Primary, noted that the community was eager to have people of our education and experience “come home” to Kenya and that particularly, they hoped we would consider building a high school for girls. To be honest, up until that point, the idea had never entered my head. I had assumed when we eventually relocated to Kenya (I was in love with the place by the second week, so that was already pretty clear) I would teach at a university as I did in the US. But, Mr. Kipchoge’s words first brought the vision of Simbolei Girls’ into being.

Overall, it was a wonderful trip, discovering the beauties of Kenya and meeting and developing relationships with Richard’s family and friends. It would be eight years before we were able to buy land suitable for Simbolei Girls’ and another five after that before we were able to begin construction. But, it was the beginning a lifechanging experience for all of us. As we prepare to finally open Simbolei Girls’ to the first students in January 2020, this story reminds me that sometimes all it takes to start something big is a few words of vision, the planting of a seed.


The Roof is On

Friday, 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

Wednesday, 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.

We Are Building a School: Tunajenga Shule

Wednesday, 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.

New Year, Exam Results: Kenyan Kids Face the Future

Thursday, December 31st, 2015

A standard eight (eighth grade) class at Kamariny Primary.

As the new year begins, many of us make resolutions for new habits and activities. In Kenya, January marks the start of the new school year as well. It is an exciting time for all pupils as they buy new school books and uniforms. For students who finished Standard Eight (eighth grade) in 2015, however, it is a time of both excitement and uncertainty. At the end of Standard Eight, all students take an exam called the Kenya Certificate of Primary Education Exam (KCPE).  The score a student receives on this exam, received in the last week of December, determines whether he/she will be admitted to high school and through a complicated formula also determines which public high school/s the student will be admitted to. Public and private high schools in Kenya compete to recruit the students with the highest exam scores. Students who fail the exam either leave school or, in some cases, may be able to repeat Standard Eight and retake the exam next year.

For many students in Kenya, however, a shortage of high school places means even passing the exam does not guarantee a spot. Nationally, about 30% of students who pass the exam are unable to secure any place at all in a high school. Some of these students will repeat Standard Eight and try for a higher score next year.  Many, however, will seek some kind of employment, usually farm work or casual labor and never return to school. For girls, failure to enter high school increases their risk of early pregnancy and/or marriage.

Students who score well on the exam must then consider the cost of the schools they have been accepted to. Also, parents and students must consider the cost and risk of long distance travel as some students are accepted to schools a hundred miles or more from home. Since most families do not own cars, this requires travel by public transport over dangerous roads. Every year, social media posts document desperate searches for students who have either deliberately or accidentally gone astray on their way to boarding schools in distant cities.

Kamariny Primary, Standard Eight students and teacher.

So, while this is a time of celebration for many students who have done well, it is also a time of anxiety and tension for all families.

At Simbolei Academy, our mission is to improve education for girls in Rift Valley Province. To do that we provide literacy programs for primary school students that increase their exposure to literature and reading, a proven way of increasing academic achievement.  Also, we are building Simbolei Academy so that 320 local young women will have access to a high quality secondary education without traveling far from home.

As the new year begins, we look forward to more progress and more projects. Thank you for working with us and we hope you will continue to support us as we move forward. The girls of Rift Valley Province deserve our help.


2016 “Winter” Construction Moves Apace

Monday, December 21st, 2015

Here in the US it’s the shortest day of the year and we are moving into the deep cold of winter. But, in Kamariny, every day all year includes 12 hours of daylight and the weather has been great for construction as Richard and the crew prepare to put the second floor “deck” on the main building. They have been working hard and Richard has been a little more “hands on” to make up for Mr. Majani’s decreased mobility.

Felix Sirma, the project manager has sent lots of photos. Here are a few of the things that have been happening.

Richard and the architect, Kipsang, plan the work of preparing to pour cement.

The crew unloads timber that will be used to create a frame for the poured concrete.

Cutting the support poles to the correct length.

Building the scaffolding.

The scaffolding is finished.

Richard examines the scaffolding.

Richard and the crew plan to pour concrete for half of the deck using the wooden scaffolding plus the reinforcing metal which they are now building. Then, most of the timber can be reused to build scaffolding for the second half of the deck. That second half will be poured with my supervision when I am there in July. I am excited that construction is moving fast enough for us to now have two building sessions per year.

We are working hard to get the funds together now to finish the deck in July, so fundraising over the next few months will be very important. Then will come the roof , the second floor walls and interior finishing.  Simbolei is being built board by board and stone by stone, one wheelbarrow of cement at a time. It is slow, but we are tenacious and the time is growing close. Our opening date of January 2018 is definitely within reach now.

As we close another year, Richard and I and the people of Kamariny/Iten are filled with gratitude for the support we have received to overcome each obstacle and build toward the future. The young women of this rural area will soon fill this building with learning, chatter and laughter. We are so happy to have you with us on this journey.



And Off We Go!

Tuesday, June 30th, 2015

The day has finally arrived when we head out for Kenya!  This year’s literacy workshops promise to feature more fun and stories than ever with three volunteers and myself visiting five primary schools. In addition, we will be painting the volunteer cottage, supervising installation of a new electrical line and following up with environmental compliance activities.

Tomorrow, we will be in Nairobi with our volunteer, Sharon Kotut and our newest board member, Alika Mathur. We hope that the internet connections enable us to post updates and photos, so stay tuned.

Time to hit the road.

Construction 2014 Is Underway and the Walls are Going Up

Sunday, December 28th, 2014

December is Richard Kaitany’s annual leave from his “real” job in Michigan, so in a few weeks he squeezes in most of the construction Simbolei Girls’ accomplishes each year. Every year is an adventure and filled with excitement and we make progress toward opening the school, but 2014 has been especially rewarding as we see the walls of the school going up!

Richard arrived in Kenya about two weeks ago and immediately inspected the piles of construction stone and organized the construction crew. Mr. Majani, our site supervisor, decided we needed more stone from a particular quarry to ensure the walls were strong, so Richard arranged for transport and ordered the stone. When it arrived, the crew went to work building the walls.

Stone from the quarry in Koru arrives on site.


Mr. Majani is also very particular about the pattern in which the stone is laid, requiring the masons to use a specific proportion of stronger stones to lighter stones, longer to shorter etc. He literally watches and guides the workers every step of the way. As you can see in the picture, the finished walls are beautifully patterned and built to last a century at least.

Masons building the wall.

A finished section of wall showing the stone pattern.

As the walls go up, we also get a new sense of the size of the finished structure. This section is the front half of the building and will be partitioned in to classrooms. The rough stone on the interior will be smoothed and plastered after the building’s roof is placed.


Richard plans to finish all of the first floor walls this construction season. Then, the next big job will be getting the first floor roof  (the floor of the second story) in place. Depending on finances, we may be able to finish that part of the job this way or it may have to wait until 2015.

A view of the first floor walls.

Construction is interesting and exciting, but, of course, our goal is not to be forever constructing, but to finish the building and move on with opening a school for generations of young women in rural Kenya. This is our real project and our real goal. If you would consider making a year end donation to Simbolei Academy, you could help us to literally put the stones in place.

Also, just a reminder that we still have spots for summer volunteers. If you would like to join us in Kenya on July 10-25, 2015, we would love to have you along to read, play and learn with our cooperating elementary school students. Send us a message at for full information and itinerary.


World Malaria Day: There is Something to Celebrate this Year

Friday, April 25th, 2014

For most of us in the Northern hemisphere, a mosquito bite is an annoyance. For people who live where malaria is present, however, a bite from an infected mosquito can lead to malaria, a parasitic infection with symptoms of fever and chills, aches, headaches, vomiting and even death. Worldwide, 627,000 people die of malaria every year (all figures are from the World Health Organization).  Most of those victims are children in Africa. Pregnant women and those with compromised immune systems are also highly at risk.

The good news is, we are slowly winning the fight against this deadly disease. Since 2000, the yearly death toll has been reduced by 42%!  Bed nets treated with insecticides, screens for windows, and the reduction of standing water such as puddles near homes greatly reduces the risk of infection. Prompt medical attention can reduce the risks of complications such as dehydration and anemia. Our Simbolei community supports the fight against malaria by encouraged the use of bed nets and screens, planning for screened sleeping areas at our facilities and helping to educate our participating students and teachers whenever possible. World Malaria Day is a time to remember how much pain and heartache are caused by this deadly disease, but it’s also a time to celebrate our progress and our hopes for a future free of malaria.

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