2014 Newsletter

November, 2014

Dear Friends of Kenya Help:

Ten years ago, in September 2005, I boarded a plane headed for Nairobi.  I can’t remember my expectations, but I assure you, they didn’t involve a foundation, building a girls high school, donations exceeding $1.6 million, 250 graduates from the school and 35 orphans who seem like my own grandchildren.  I thought I was going to teach math in a mixed boarding high school and learn about Africa.  Nor did I imagine the chord this project would strike with so many wonderful people whose donations make it all possible.  Several grandmothers give a Christmas gift of a scholarship instead of “things”, children have requested donations to Kenya Help in lieu of birthday gifts, a group of elementary school girls earned about $40,000, part of which built our basketball court.  Many of you have opened your hearts to children, both boys and girls and helped send them to high school and university.

St Francis Class of 2014
St Francis Class of 2014

Where are we now?  As I write, 51 form 4’s have just completed national exams, each with her own dreams about her next phase of life.  They eagerly await late February when the results are published.

Quinter wants to be an engineer, Cynthia hopes for med school, Magdalene dreams of a stage career, Veronica wants to teach, while Selena, has run in the Kenyan nationals and has Olympic hopes.  We have aspiring architects, doctors, lawyers, accountants, designers, nurses and business entrepreneurs.  They have lived with their diversity of 9 tribal cultures, learning to adapt to many differences.  They continue to become more confident in their worth as young women–something they often don’t learn within the tribal culture–and in confidence that they can make a positive difference in their world.  They are learning to share their challenges and discover that others have had the same issues.  They are becoming aware of the parts of the culture that should be preserved and the parts that no longer serve them.  Female Genital Mutilation is a case in point.  Many tribes, including several represented at SFG, still practice FGM but many of our girls now have the courage and confidence to say NO!  Even more importantly they can take back to their age-mates still in the village the information that this is not a universal practice and to encourage more to say NO!

The students have developed compassion for the poorest among them, establishing a fund to help pay “arrears”, and provide for personal needs.  Girls donate their extra pocket money and even items, such a soap and toothpaste.  Earlier this year a group visited the neighbors, bringing gifts, planting trees and getting to know them.  As an extra incentive to girls who struggle, the SFG board instituted a “most improved” student award, one for each class.  The girls really like that.

St. Francis continues its efforts to be “green”.  The latest effort is a biogas system, which will convert all organic waste to methane gas for 2014 newsletter gardengirlscooking.  The final product is fertilizer, good even on food crops.  It’s the perfect recycling system, as well as eliminating wood burning–thus saving trees and adding no greenhouse gases to the atmosphere.  We have asked Safaricom, Kenya’s largest phone company, to fund this.  Already our water-harvesting from roofs to a huge underground cistern and our solar/wind electricity generation system (funded by Safaricom) are attracting attention. We sent the SFG agriculture teacher to the Grow Bio-Intensive Demonstration project in Thika (http://www.g-biack.org/) and provided organic, non-GMO seeds, purchased with funds raised by 4 young girls in Palo Alto.  They provide the basis of a seed saving program.

The children of Mji Wa Neema children’s home are growing up and are either in high school, university or training courses to learn skills to support themselves.  We hope the parish will decide to bring in more orphans to join the home.  It is such a warm, loving, nourishing, supportive place, with staff who encourage, teach, train and help them move through childhood to become responsible adults.

We are happy with Empower the World (ETW), the Kenyan foundation established to receive our funds and to evaluate applications for scholarships.  Fr. Kiriti is one of the executive board members, which ensures his involvement regardless of where he is posted.  ETW is making plans to solicit donations from local people and from other Kenyan foundations, like Safaricom.  Our hope is that the scholarship program will eventually be self-sustaining.  That’s a long way off, but the first steps are under way.

We continue our efforts to keep our overhead at a minimum.  All of the Kenya Help Board and myself are volunteers who give our time to keep this program growing.  To date our 2014 expenses are 4.6% of donations.  The other 95.4% has supported 72 high boys and girls and 15 students in post high school, purchased shoes, clothing and supplies for the children of Mji Wa Neema, supported Fr. Kiriti’s work in East Pokot, including a mobile medical clinic bringing prenatal care, immunizations and information to remote areas. We purchased the badges you see on the red uniform sweaters, a camera, and other needed supplies for St. Francis.

Future needs include more housing for teachers, 10 laptops for our teachers, new desktop computers in lab, and scholarships.  With your help and encouragement, these needs, too, will become realities.

Warm regards,

Margo McAuliffe, Executive Director and the Kenya Help Board Members


2013 Annual Newsletter

November, 2013

ImageSt. Francis Class of 2013 

Dear Friends of Kenya Help,

            This November we  celebrate the graduation of our 4th class from St. Francis Xavier Secondary School for Girls (SFG).  The Form 4’s (above) have just completed their national exam, the Kenya Curriculum Secondary Exam, or KCSE, and will return home to await the results, usually posted in February.   The top performers, those with, A, A- or B+, will be eligible for regular admission to a government university at discounted tuition.  Those who score B, B- or C+  may be admitted to the university in what is called a parallel admission, at a much higher tuition.  Thus the incentive to perform well is high and the girls have worked so hard!  Principal, Ruth Kahiga, reports she and the staff are very pleased with the results of the 2013 academic year. 

         Image   This summer marked the second time an American high school student attended SFG.  Maya McAuliffe, Margo’s granddaughter, spent 3 ½ weeks as a form 3 student and it was a life-changing experience.  Coming from Palo Alto High School, with all its privileges and freedom of movement, to a much more restricted environment, sharing a dorm room, with five  girls, eating unfamiliar food, having very long days in class – 8 am to 9 pm – with just a few breaks,  hand washing clothes and taking cold showers was a cultural shock.  It was a hard transition for her, but she adjusted well and in the end she was very positive and declared that she wanted to go back.   She’s pictured wearing  a Form 1 uniform, waiting to perform at the talent show.  

            St. Francis continues its efforts to be energy efficient, self-sustaining, and eco-friendly.  In July we celebrated the completion of the borehole (well) and the solar powered pump, all funded by a Kenya Help donor.  Since the water is naturally highly fluoridated it must be processed for all cooking and drinking purposes.  Installation of a defluoridation system, also funded by Kenya Help, now provides top quality water, and saves money.  

            Water harvested from roofs  during the rainy season is stored in a huge underground cistern and is used for washing and irrigation.  

            Our next project is to build storage for basic foodstuffs . Once it’s in place, wheat, maize, rice and beans can be purchased locally (reducing transportation costs).  Buying a full year’s supply at harvest time, when prices are low, will be another great money saver. A flour grinder for making the bread will be installed in the storage structure, completing the full process. 

            In addition to supportimg of SFG, our donors have contributed to the renovation of Archbishop Ndingi Secondary School for Boys.  Some major improvements have been completed, such as painting all the classrooms, making them much brighter, and installing ceilings.  The ceilings greatly reduce the noise of African rains pounding on the roof.  Previously it was impossible to be heard during a storm.  More improvements are in the planning stage, awaiting approval by the appropriate governmental departments.  

            The governing boards of both high schools are making every effort to keep the fees as low as possible, but weather conditions and rising petrol prices have caused food costs to increase substantially.  Kenya Help supports many students whose families are unable to bear the increase.  Our sponsors now pay $800 per year, which covers tuition, room and board, text books, exercises books, fees for the national exam and other expenses.  

            As more of our students graduate from the high schools, we hope to increase our support for more students to attend university.  Many students have great potential but lack any means of support.  The Kenyan government does help by providing low cost loans, with no interest charged while the student is in school.  Payments are automatically deducted from salaries when the student is gainfully employed.  All Kenya Help post-secondary scholarship recipients  must also obtain a loan. 

         Image   In May, Kenya Help sponsored a concert featuring the Brubeck Institute Quartet from University of the Pacific.  It was a wonderful afternoon of jazz and camaraderie and was enthusiastically enjoyed by our guests.


            Fr. Kiriti’s October/November visit this year was marked by the first of what we hope will be an annual Kenya Help benefit breakfast.  It was held at the University Club of Palo Alto.  Fr. Kiriti shared his experiences in his new parish of Kositei, outlining the need for support of a medical clinic in this very remote, rural area.  Margo McAuliffe read quotes from some of our sponsored students and Maya shared some highlights and lowlights of her summer experience.  It was a lovely event and we are so grateful to our donors who helped to make it a success. 

            As always we are so grateful for the ongoing support from our growing group of donors.  St. Francis is completely built and is self-sustaining.  Our primary fund-raising goal for 2014 is for the scholarship program, which we hope to expand.  We also accept donations to support Fr. Kiriti’s work in Kositei.           

           Image We are all saddened by the death of Jecinta Gakaku, social worker for the Naivasha Catholic Parish and a tireless worker for all children.  She wore many hats, including responsibility for Mji Wa Neema children’s home, and determining which students were eligible for Kenya Help scholarships.  Her shoes can never be filled, but we are confident that a replacement will be found for most of her roles.  She was a good friend to all who visited Naivasha, always so willing to give advice, guide us somewhere, help with purchasing  crafts and helped us all to understand the culture of the community.  She passed away on November 4 after a short illness.  She leaves two daughters, Marian and Jecinta, both in Class 8 (elementary school), and currently completing the national exam for high school admittance.   

            Warm regards to you all, 

Margo McAuliffe and the Kenya Help Board

2012 Year End Newsletter

November 2012

Dear Friends of Kenya Help,

As I sit down to write our annual newsletter, I can’t help but feel awe at all that has happened since I first returned from Kenya in September 2005.  With the support of our wonderful and generous donors, we have built beautiful St Francis Xavier Secondary School for Girls (SFG), sent 11 students to university, of which 2 have now successfully completed the 4 years (the rest are in process).  Two classes have now graduated, all member of which passed the national exam, and our third class (below) is presently sitting for its exam.

24 form 4 class 2012

More than 100 high school students have scholarships, including those from the Mji Wa Neema children’s home.  KH has refurbished the home and contributes to its daily functioning.  We have supported the social work of Jecinta Gakahu-getting poor children into elementary school (buying uniforms, paying fees etc), helping hungry families eat, relocating some destitute grandmothers to plots of land so they can feed their grandchildren.  We have accepted donations to Life Bloom to help that organization provide support for women who have resorted to the extreme of sex work to feed their children.  With the generous help of St. Denis Catholic Church in Menlo Park we have helped with the refurbishment of Archbishop Ndingi Boys High School, an ambitious, long-term project.  Not bad for 8 years!

2012 saw some big changes, beginning with the arrival of new principal, Mrs. Ruth Kahiga, who teaches English.  I had the privilege of working with her this past summer and am delighted with the way she is directing the school, interacting with the staff and inspiring the students.  She is truly a mother to them all.  This is particularly important in this school where more than half our students are orphans or have single-parents.

In June of 2012, the district (like a state) held its annual prize-giving day honoring excellent schools.  St Francis received a number of academic awards, but the most coveted trophy earned was The Most Child-Friendly School.  In the picture, Principal Kahiga is shown presenting trophies to SFG Board (left-most in picture is Child-Friendly cup).

2012-11 trophy most girl friendly school

Our beloved Fr. Kiriti has been transferred to a very remote, rural area in northern Kenya.  This has been a major loss, because he was at the school virtually every day during those building years, directing, inspecting and “cracking the whip”.

Fortunately we have not lost his valuable input completely.  He is the new chairman of the SFG Board of Governors, so we still feel this vital connection to his energy and wisdom.  He is also a member of the board of Empower the World (ETW), a Kenyan non-profit, which receives KH wire transfers.  We requested establishment of ETW to safeguard our donated funds.  This had not been a problem, but with Fr. Kiriti’s move, we foresaw possibilities and moved to ensure that our donations are allocated as requested.

Although the building program is almost complete, we did add some nice touches.  SFG now bakes all its own bread, plus all the bread for Archbishop Ndingi and is getting inquiries from other schools, because the bread is so delicious and so nutritious.  KH hopes to buy a flour grinder for SFG so that the process begins with grinding fresh flour for each baking, thus maximizing the nutritional value and minimizing the cost.

SFG continues to become more green.  You may recall that it is off the power grid, with solar and wind installations.  I had thought I would be asking for help to drill a bore hole (well) so it would also be water independent, but just a few weeks ago, an angel appeared, offering to fund it.  The miracles continue!  When the water system is completed, irrigation of the pasture will eliminate the need to purchase silage for the 3 cows during the dry season.  Newly planted fruit trees will also appreciate regular watering.

5 Esther bread dough mixer

(Left: Esther, our matron is adding more water to the dough-mixing machine, purchased by Kenya Help.)

 Another possible project is a fishpond so the girls can enjoy the wonderful talapia found in Kenyan lakes and is easy to grow.  If another plot of land becomes available, the pond can be built and chickens raised.  The girls actively participate in the food production, from cleaning out the barn to milking the cows, watering the fruit trees, helping to bake the bread and maintain the grounds.  All this and they excel in their studies too!

We are delighted to welcome a new member of the SFG community, a son born in October to deputy principal Peter Murigi and his wife, Peris.  I was fortunate enough to attend their wedding several summers ago (a real treat) and to stay in their home several nights so I could spend evenings helping the Form 4’s math preparation for the KCSE.

We are sad that Fr. Kiriti is unable to visit us this year, but he promises to come in 2013.  I will be speaking Sunday, December 16, at Our Lady of the Rosary Hall about Fr Kiriti’s work in his new parish of Kosetei, as well as showing pictures.  Please see insert for details, as well as a list of opportunities to see and donate for items I have brought back from Kenya.

And (fanfare!) we are pleased to announce the launching of our new website at the end of November.

We thank you for your continued support and hope you will continue to help with our many projects, and in particular, to send more and more needy students to high school and to university.

With gratitude,

Margo McAuliffe and the Kenya Help Board members

Craig Noke (KH Board President), Kay Williams, Judy Murphy, Debbie Shaver, Betsy Rosenthal, Deepa Shiva