Simbolei Community Assistance Association

Archive for the ‘education for girls’ 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.


Books About Black History for All Ages

Sunday, February 10th, 2019

February is Black History Month in the US, so I thought it would be a good time to share some books about Africa and Black history that I have found interesting. Today, I’ll cover two very recent books, one for adults and one for younger readers that cover important aspects of Black history.

The first book is A Rope from the Sky : The Making and Umaking of the World’s Newest State by Zach Vertin, which came out in January 2019. South Sudan, Kenya’s neighbor to the north, is one of the world’s newest countries, having separated from Sudan in 2011 and began to disintegrate in civil disputes in 2013. Vertin follows the major figures in the formation and eventual disruption of South Sudan as they achieve the impossible, separating from the country governed from Khartoum created by the British and setting up a new coutnry. But, fighting for independence and governing a modern state are two different tasks requiring different strengths. The picture of South Sudan’s struggles with corruption and the toxic manipulation of ethnic rivalries illustrates the struggles common to many African nations to one degree or another. The book is rather long but quite readable and helped me understand South Sudan and its impact on East Africa much better. Simbolei’s late friend and patron, Lazarus Sumbeiywo makes a brief appearance in the peace negotiation process.


For younger readers, Black History Month is a great time to learn about some stellar figures in science.  One beautiful new picture book tells the story of African American scientist, Ernest Everett Just, a pioneer in the study of cell biology. The pictures in this book are gorgeous and the text describes Just’s life and work in a way that will spark the interest of readers ages 6-11 in cell biology while also discussing the racial discrimination Just faced in his career. The book’s author is Melina Mangal and Luisa Uribe did the beautiful illustrations.

Over the years, many of you have asked me what types of books the Simbolei library will include. Others have asked what books might give good information about East Africa. As I pack up my own library and prepare to ship the books, I will be posting brief descriptions of some favorites here. Happy reading!

Construction News!

Wednesday, January 30th, 2019

The new year begins with Richard Kaitany and the crew finishing the rough construction and beginning interior finishing. Everything is finally coming together for our school opening, January 2020.

In this picture, the workers position the cut stone in preparation for creating the last walls.

This is the wall they can finish in one day. Then , the wall needs to cure overnight before they continue the next day. 

And in this photo you can see the back wall finished. In the days since this photo was taken, all the second floor walls were finished.

So, what’s next?  Here in Michigan, I am clearing out and packing up accumulation from 20 years raising a family in this house. Our house here will go on the market in April. In Kenya, Richard and the crew are ready to begin interior finishing of the first four classrooms, the science laboratory and the library. A huge thank you to the Presbyterian Church of Okemos in Michigan for providing funds for interior finishing and microscopes for the science laboratory!

If you or someone you know would be interested in sponsoring the library or one or more of the classrooms, let us know!

Also, over the next few weeks, I’m going to start posting about how I am preparing for the move, with photos and stories about the new tools and processes I am attempting to master, from efficient ways to do laundry without a washing machine to making cheese and planning coursework.  I will also post reviews of some great books about Kenya and East Africa so you can read up on the context of Simbolei Academy.

We’re moving right along!


The Value of Picture Books

Monday, 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.

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

Kenya 2017

Wednesday, 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.

So Many Reasons to be Thankful: 2016 in Review

Friday, 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!

Monday, 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.




2016 Teacher Workshop Brings in Some New (Puppet) Faces

Monday, July 25th, 2016
Teachers and volunteers gather for our annual workshop.

Teachers and volunteers gather for our annual workshop.

We are back from Kenya! We have lots of great stories and pictures to share from our time working with students and teachers.  The highlight of our first days in Kenya is always the Teacher Workshop. This year, we had a wonderful set of puppets made by my cousin, Sandy, and we decided to use part of the workshop to introduce the puppets to the teachers.

Teachers examine the puppets that we will use in the literacy workshops.

Teachers examine the puppets that we will use in the literacy workshops.

The teachers admired the clever construction of the puppets but especially the way the puppets were designed to illustrate the text of our theme story “Pretty Salma.”

Teachers with the puppets and the storybook.

Teachers with the puppets and the storybook.

In addition to introducing the puppets, we also gave the teachers books for their own leisure reading and to share with older students. It is a joy to see their enthusiasm for reading.

Teachers with the leisure reading books we brought.

Teachers with the leisure reading books we brought.

Salaries for primary school teachers are too low to allow them to purchase books and the Iten area has no public library. We are honored to help these teachers enjoy the pleasures of reading.

Caroline, English teacher at Kamariny Primary, shares my love of mystery and detective fiction.

Caroline, English teacher at Kamariny Primary, shares my love of mystery and detective fiction.

As we move ahead with construction this fall, I begin to envision the future community library at Simbolei Girls’ Academy. Not only will our students enjoy the books, but book lovers like these teachers throughout the community will be able to enjoy our collection.

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