Simbolei Community Assistance Association

Archive for the ‘School history’ Category

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


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.

Traveling Far and Fast: Running Culture in Iten and Our Volunteer Cottage

Sunday, August 31st, 2014

While our friends and supporters associate Iten, Kenya with Simbolei Academy, for anyone who follows distance running, Iten is “the home of champions,” the birthplace and training ground for a majority of today’s top marathon and distance runners. Of course, Richard Kaitany was one of the early generations of runners to migrate from Iten to the wider world as a scholarship college athlete and later as a professional marathon runner. But while many Kenyan runners follow in his footsteps, today, Iten also hosts runners from all over the world who want to train in the ideal climate conditions and run with the best. They travel to Iten to spend weeks or even months training in the on the roads and trails around Kamariny, using Kamariny stadium for track workouts.

The volunteer cottage in Kamariny near Iten, Kenya.

If you want evidence that the world is beginning to beat a (running) path to our door, here are a links to few of the  articles in the international press.

Given all this interest in Iten as a running destination,  Simbolei’s board decided to invite the world running community give back to Iten, which offers so much to them. As a first step, we have decided to rent our volunteer cottage to runners or others interested in visiting Iten.  All proceeds from the rental will go directly to our construction project. We’ll be adding more details to these plans in the future, but for now, you can check out the volunteer cottage and learn about rentals at this website:

We hope in the near future to not only offer rentals, but to help groups plan their running trip to Iten and learn about the local culture, all with the goal of completing construction and getting the gates open for Simbolei Academy.

Please check out the photos and spread the news to your friends that a unique opportunity is available to Simbolei supporters and their friends.  In Iten, we believe in traveling far and fast. Hope you’ll join us for the journey.

World class runner and Simbolei supporter, Augustine Choge, training near Iten.

The Journey of the Saw

Wednesday, March 12th, 2014

Those of you who have followed us for some time might be familiar with the “saga of the stone saw.”  Back at the beginning of construction, we decided an industrial capacity stone saw would be more cost efficient and safe for sawing the hundreds of blocks of quarry stone we would use in construction. Since such saws are almost unknown in Kenya, we ordered a saw from California, which was delivered to Coldwater, Michigan, over 100 miles from our house. Richard and Kibor drove our little Nissan pickup to Coldwater, the saw was loaded on, and despite a tire blowout which led to some scary moments on the interstate, they managed to arrive safely in our driveway in Lansing, Michigan.  Our neighbors rallied round to help lift the 500 pound saw from the back of the pickup and place it in our garage. From there, Stevens International shippers collected it and delivered it to the ocean port. THEN, the saw took a little cruise across the Atlantic Ocean, through the Suez Canal and down the east coast of Africa to the Kenyan port of Mombasa. From Mombasa, it made the four hundred mile truck journey to Kamariny.

This week, we finally got the saw up and running. With the concerted efforts of our building committee, especially retired machinist John Keitany, our construction supervisor, Mr. Majani, and our new saw operator, the first blocks of rough stone were sliced into smooth finished building blocks. These blocks, unlike the rough basalt used in the foundation, are quite beautiful to behold and will be used to create the actual walls of Simbolei Academy.  As I received the pictures of the growing stack of perfectly cut blocks, it became easier to picture the school walls slowly going up. Over the next weeks and months, we will bring six to eight large truck loads of rough stone to the construction site and our crew will cut each stone smooth with the saw. What a joy to watch our construction process!

In addition to our crew on the ground, we thank all the supporters and donors in the US and Kenya who continue to support our construction process. From the neighbors who helped lift the saw to all of you who buy the cookbook and donate to Simbolei, every one of you is a part of the process. Onward and upward!

The Outline Takes Shape: Winter Construction

Monday, January 20th, 2014

The big news here at Simbolei is the success of our winter construction season. Richard Kaitany arrived in Kenya on December 8 and was able to work on construction until January 8.

Richard meets friends and relatives at the Eldoret airport.

Once he got  on the ground, Richard and Mr. Majani, our construction supervisor, and the crew went to work erecting the pillars that will form the main supports for the second floor. Like most of our construction work, it is done by hand, with the workers building putting up metal frameworks, then building wooden forms, pouring in the concrete to form the pillar, and finally removing the form from the finished pillar. By the time the work was finished, the outline of the finished building was becoming visible.

We are very excited to see the main building going up slowly but surely. The next step will be cutting and placing the stone for the first floor walls, work we hope to see going forward in the next few weeks. Stay tuned for pictures of the mighty stone saw, imported all the way from California, to Michigan and finally to rural Kenya, as it swings into action cutting the blocks of rough stone.

Construction Season begins!

Friday, December 13th, 2013

This year, we are moving into the second phase of construction, raising the walls and support pillars for the second floor of Simbolei Academy. Richard Kaitany arrived in Kenya this week and despite the national holiday for Kenya’s fiftieth anniversary of independence, he was able to get the contractor, inspector and construction committee together. They reviewed the site, measured and planned and then began putting in the metal rebar framework for the support columns. We were able to get a few pictures and hope for more soon. It is exciting to see progress being made. Please remember that all of our building is made possible by the generosity and support of our friends and donors in Kenya and around the world.

Richard Kaitany (in dark cap) works with the construction committee, contractor and county inspector to prepare for the columns.


Preparing to extend the metal framework.


The new metal framework goes up, to be followed by wooden forms and poured concrete.

Construction News

Thursday, December 27th, 2012

Currently, Richard is in Kenya working on construction of Simbolei Girls’ Academy.  Last week, our nephew Matthew was on hand to take some pictures of the progress.

Richard’s main goal for this trip was to complete the foundation so that we can begin work on the walls and plumbing work.

First, the crew hauled crushed stone and poured in the last layer of “ballast” before the concrete.

The final layer of gravel goes in before the concrete.


The next step “should” have been pouring concrete, but our piped water supply suddenly failed due to problems with the municipal pump.  The crew improvised by bringing out water technicians to resurrect a disused borehole “well” on the property.  This water is not safe to drink, but was perfectly fine for mixing concrete for construction.

The crew working on the bore hole.

With the water problem solved, it was on to the concrete pouring. By the end of the week, a smooth slab of concrete was curing on the construction site.

New concrete slab shows the outline of the main building.

Finishing the slab is a huge step in construction.  We thank all of our supporters for helping us get to this point.  Next up, the first story of the main building!




Books, Books, Books!

Friday, May 4th, 2012

Obviously, the biggest book news of the moment is the Simbolei cookbook, From the Heartland to the Heart of the Rift: An East African Cookbook.  100% of the proceeds from the sale of each book go directly to the construction of Simbolei Academy and to our literacy programs.  The easiest way to order is to scroll down the right side of this page and click on the “Buy Now” button to place your order.  All kinds of main dishes, side dishes and desserts are included from the East African region, from Beef Biryani to Chapati Mayai.  In addition, the cookbook has lots of fun photos and cultural facts and ideas.


Kibor and Jelimo review books for the Kenya literacy workshop

But the cookbook is not the only “book” event we’re currently excited about.  Our literacy event IN KENYA is coming up in July!  One rainy evening recently, the kids and I started looking through and organizing the books we have so far and discussing what other books we might want to include in the event.  We have identified three primary schools near the site of Simbolei Academy to participate in our pilot program.  In July, I will visit these schools with local volunteers to promote reading not only for academic achievement, but as a means to developing critical thinking and a broader view of the world.  Most of the children in these schools have never owned a book other than the cheaply produced black and white textbooks they buy for school.  Many of them have never been read to by an adult and many do not see adults around them reading on a regular basis.  We want the children to develop a love for reading and an appetite for information that lasts long beyond their school years.

To do this, our program has two components, one for teachers and one for students.  First, I will conduct a mini-workshop for the teachers at each school, reviewing some of the newest research on the benefits of leisure reading and the use of picture books.  I will also present each school with a small selection of picture books that teachers can use for future activities.  Second, the volunteers and I will lead groups of children from the schools in their own workshop, which will include a read aloud story, a craft, and a video.  I will explain the purpose of the “starter” libraries to the children, that their teachers will be conducting further read aloud sessions using the books we are donating.  In the future, we hope to add more books to these libraries, and eventually, encourage these schools to use the library at Simbolei Academy to supplement their own resources.  My dream is to someday see Simbolei students conducting the workshops themselves.

I’m sure most readers share my love of books and I  hope you have fond memories of favorite books and story times as a child.  Because shipping is expensive, we can take only a limited number of books for this pilot project.  However, if you have a favorite you would like to contribute, please contact me at so that we can include it in the program.  Your generous donations to Simbolei make these workshops possible.


A Flurry of Activity as Construction Swings Into Gear

Wednesday, January 25th, 2012

While Richard was in Kenya, I seldom got to finish a phone conversation with him as there seemed to be constant noise and activity in the background.  When he got home to “show and tell” everything that had been happening on the project, I could understand why he didn’t have much time to chat.  I think the pictures tell the story better than I can with words, but in summary, we have leveled and hand dug the site and preparations are now going on to cement in the 63 concrete support pillars, fill in the sand and stone ballast, put in the foundation stones and pour the main concrete slab. I am amazed and filled with gratitude to realize  how much care, skill and physical labor go into a building like this when it is constructed without power tools or heavy equipment.

After the concrete foundation slab is poured,  we will three or four weeks to catch our breath while the slab cures and we prepare toput in the stone walls.  By then,  we  hope to have the stone saw which is being imported from the U.S. on site  so that the stone can be cut neatly, safely and efficiently. Some of you may not care for so many construction details, but rest assured, the building is all part of the journey toward the really exciting part, opening the gates and bringing in the students.  As one supporter pointed out, “The foundation stones we are putting in now will literally support the education of thousands of girls for decades to come.”   Your financial support at this crucial phase will produce lasting results.

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