Simbolei Community Assistance Association

Archive for the ‘girls’ education’ Category

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

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.

A New Season for New Adventures: Literacy Outreach 2016 is Coming Up

Wednesday, May 11th, 2016

Felix sent a couple of new pictures from Kamariny this week. The maize is coming up nicely and little Alpha, the first new calf in our little “herd” is growing well.

Maize field at Kamariny, May, 2016.

Maize field at Kamariny, May, 2016.

Alsace and baby Alpha, May, 2016.

Alsace and baby Alpha, May, 2016.

Here in Michigan, the volunteers who will be traveling to Kenya for Literacy Outreach 2016 are filling out travel paperwork, confirming flights and eagerly counting the days until we arrive in Kenya to share books and stories with the kids.

It seems like time flies by as every year brings new developments and new adventures. There are many times when I feel discouraged at the pace of our building, impatient to see the future. But it’s important to enjoy the journey and watch the growth of good things, crops, calves, children and schools. All take time to reach their full potential. It will not be long before little Alpha is a full grown milk cow, supplying our students with safe, nutritious food. And it won’t be long before the first students settle into the dormitories at Simbolei Academy, ready to build a better future for themselves and their community.

In the meantime, over the next few weeks I will introduce you to the amazing people who have volunteered to help in Kenya this year and also to some of the people who support us here in the US and make all our programs possible.

While the calendar says the New Year starts in January, all farmers and those who love the outdoors know the beginning of a new growing season is the real new year. Take time to celebrate it.

The Bottom Line: Why We Care about Girl Children

Monday, April 11th, 2016

I answer lots of questions about Simbolei Academy. Obviously, it’s my favorite topic of conversation, so generally I enjoy explaining what we do and why we do it. But once in a while a question brings me up short. More than once lately, I’ve been asked, “Why do you focus so much on girls?  Don’t you care about boys? ” This question comes in a variety of formulations, sometimes sounding genuinely curious, but more often with at least a hint of criticism. Simbolei’s focus on education and empowerment specifically for girls is the only aspect of our project that ever draws a negative response from members of the local community. So, as our literacy activities grow and construction moves steadily forward toward opening day, it seems like a good time to revisit some old premises and answer the simple question, “Why do you care so much about girls?”

First, as a mom of two wonderful young men and as a teacher of hundreds of intelligent, caring and inspiring young men in my classes over the past 27 years, let me say that I admire and encourage the many gifts young men have to bring to Kenyan society. Our primary school literacy outreach activities are all conducted in co-ed schools and boys and girls participate equally.

Students at Yokot Primary seeing us off at the end of a literacy outreach program.

However, when Richard and I decided to build a secondary school in rural Kenya, we knew our focus needed to be on the empowerment of girls and women. In rural Kenya, women perform 80% of the agricultural labor. In addition to physical labor, women manage 40smallholder farms in Kenya. They have access to only 10% of available agricultural credit. However, what is even more startling, women own 1% of land in Kenya. Yes, you read that correctly. It’s not a misprint. 1%.  Women do the work, but due to cultural and social norms and a legal system that is still skewed in favor of male inheritance and ownership, women do not generally share equally in the proceeds of their work.  But surely, you may say, this system is changing rapidly?  Women are becoming educated and taking on leadership roles in equal numbers now, right?  Today, as I write this 81% of Kenyan national parliamentarians are men. The president and deputy president are also men.  Kenya has a high rate of unemployment over all, but only 29% of formal wages paid in Kenya are paid to women.

In terms of education, Kenya’s relatively new free primary education program has increased primary school enrollment by 46%. Both boys and girls now have a good chance of attending primary school. But girls still attend secondary school in lower percentages than boys and many girls are still unable to attend secondary school due to a lack of available spaces. The Kenyan national government and local leaders strongly encourage investment in private schools to increase access to education.

In short, while Kenyans face many hardships, those hardships fall disproportionately on girls and women. Despite a great deal of international attention to the needs of women and girls in the developing world, much remains to be done to ensure gender equity in Kenya.

I know this post has deviated a bit from my usual cheerful, conversational tone. But, I hope this helps to clarify our firm commitment to the empowerment of women and girls in rural Kenya. As we move into the final phases of construction, as you consider your part in our grand adventure, let’s keep sight of the motivation that brought us this far, a vision of a world class education so that young women in rural Kenya can be empowered to build the world they imagine.

Source of Statistics: USAID


Shipping the Books: Spring is on the Way! Come To Schuler Book Days for Simbolei!

Saturday, February 27th, 2016

It’s that wonderful time of year again when we prepare to ship hundreds of new and gently used picture books to Kenya. These books will be donated to the primary schools that take part in our literacy outreach program. As I’ve mentioned before, Kenyan primary school texts are small black and white books. While they contain the information necessary to study for the national year end exams, these books do little to foster a love of reading in students.

Every year, Simbolei brings colorful, carefully selected picture books to the students that they can keep in the school and read over and over again. For many schools, our donations are their only source of high quality picture books. For many students, the books we read and share with them are the only picture books they have ever seen.

Andrea delivers some of the books we donate to Kiptingo Primary 

Jack reads one of the books we will donate to the students.

While shipping the books is very expensive, we have found few bookstores in Kenya that carry high quality children’s books and the selections, even in Nairobi, are very limited.

For the past three years, Schuler Books and Music has partnered with us to sponsor Schuler Book Days for Simbolei in Okemos and East Lansing Michigan. If you live in the area, simply shop at Schuler Books in Okemos or East Lansing March 20-26 and mention Simbolei Book Days when you check out. Schuler Books and Music will donate 20% of your purchase price to Simbolei!

If you would like to help with our literacy program but do not live in the area, there are other ways you can help.

1. Donate to Simbolei through our paypal. You can send us an email message designating your donation for our literacy outreach.

2. Donate new or gently used children’s books to Simbolei and we will use them for our program. You can even collect books from friends and relatives to share! Books that do not meet the needs of Kenyan students are exchanged for credit with Schuler Books so that we can use your donation to benefit kids in Kenya by buying new books for them. Email us at for information about how and where to ship your books.

3. Travel to Kenya with us, July 2-10 to help in person!  We need volunteers to read stories, distribute books and help with art activities at our cooperating schools.

Thank you so much for all you do to help Simbolei enrich the lives of children and young adults in Kenya. Let’s get more beautiful books into the hands of children who will love them.


Mr. Majani Inspires Us All as He Overcomes Injury

Tuesday, December 8th, 2015

Richard hasn’t sent pictures from the construction site yet, but he is on the ground and getting to work. Currently, he and Felix Sirma, John Serem and our construction contractor, Mr. Majani, are preparing the cement forms and collecting construction materials.

You may remember Mr. Majani from an earlier post. He supervises all our construction with advice from Kipsang, our architect. Over the three years we have been slowly constructing Simbolei Academy, Mr. Majani has often mentioned his two young daughters, whom he hopes will attend our school. He has sometimes wished construction could go more quickly so that his daughters do not reach high school age before the school is ready.

Like most Kenyans, Mr. Majani does not own a car. Last year, he purchased a motorcycle so that he could more easily travel home from construction projects on the weekends rather than relying on public transport.  Unfortunately, while traveling home one weekend on his motorcycle he was struck by a hit and run driver, severely injuring his legs. The doctors at first thought they might need to amputate one leg, but were able to save both despite the severe injuries.

Richard and I assured Mr. Majani that our project would wait for him. We trust his judgment and his honesty and did not want to switch contractors regardless how long the recovery period might be. However, when Mr. Majani was informed in October that Richard was making plans for the winter construction season, he sent word that he would be on the job as soon as Richard was ready to begin.

Currently, he is making his way around the construction site on crutches, taking frequent breaks to rest. We have provided housing and meals for him on the property so that he does not need to travel home in the evenings and so that he can rest during the day as needed. He is determined to do everything within his power to keep construction moving ahead and complete the project on time.

The faith and determination of people like Mr. Majani keep us going and inspire us that no matter how daunting the obstacles may be, the only right way to face them is head on.

Mr. Majani at the construction site last year, before his motorcycle accident.

Riffs for the Rift Does It Again

Monday, November 23rd, 2015

Riffs for the Rift, our annual food and music fundraiser, was held on October 26 and was again a great success. Much rice, curried cabbage, roasted beef, chicken in coconut and Kenyan potatoes were consumed.

Kibor handled the craft sale this year and we sold almost all of the items we had. We found that people loved the little stone animals, so we will bring more of those for spring fundraisers. If you or an organization you know of has a spring craft sale, please let us know and we can arrange to bring some of our beautiful Kenyan crafts.

Kibor on duty at the craft table. Maybe his charm was a selling point?

Paper bead necklaces at the craft sale.

But, of course, the real highlight of Riffs for the Rift was the music and this year was no exception. The evening began with some lovely Bach cello by Jelimo. Then, Hut Two Hike played original compositions on guitar and bass. Keven Felder ( a personal favorite of mine) was back with his romantic guitar covers. Finally, Deacon Earl and the Congregation finished the night with great blues, including amazing harmonica.

Okemos Presbyterian Church provided us with a great venue in their fellowship hall. Attendance was good and even accounting for our healthy portions of delicious food, we raised over $1000 for Simbolei Academy.

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

Sharing food and music is such a joy and it’s a great way to promote Simbolei and raise money for our programs. If you are considering a way to help Simbolei and would like to know more about holding a fundraiser, please let us know. We can help you develop a fun and effective event.

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.


Spreading the Joy of Reading

Tuesday, July 22nd, 2014

Literacy volunteer Jack and I are back from Kenya. We had a wonderful time sharing books and stories with primary school children. I also met with the building committee,hosted a conference for primary school teachers,  visited suppliers for building materials, checked in with county officials to be sure we are in compliance with local codes, reviewed financial accounts, and supervised renovations to the volunteer cottage to prepare it for potential tenants. It was a busy time and I will take several posts to review everything we did, but today, I’d like to share the very best part of the trip, the joy of introducing new books and stories to children at our cooperating primary schools.

Jack reads to students at Kiptingo Primary school.

Our basic goal for the literacy outreach program is simple. We want kids to learn to love books and reading. We want to demonstrate for teachers the magic that happens when kids encounter books that interest them. To do that, we spend a lot of time in classrooms, doing interactive read-alouds and sharing some of our favorite books with the students.

Andrea shares a story with students at Kimuchi Primary.

Looking at the faces of the children as we read, we know this simple formula works. Many of the students are just beginning to speak and read English. Some are not reading yet at all. But high quality picture books and enthusiastic readers soon overcome any language barriers.

We’re In Kenya!

Wednesday, June 25th, 2014

At long last I am on the ground in Kenya, scheduling literacy workshops and organizing the transport of stone for the next phases of construction. Our volunteer, Jack, arrives next week so I’ve also been making arrangements for the housing and accommodation of our first ever American volunteer in Kenya. I will try to post at least weekly. I have to walk or catch a ride into Iten to the internet cafe and then somehow transferring photos and uploading them on the equipment here with slow internet speeds can be tricky. But we’re moving forward here and hope to have photos for you soon.


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