Five years ago, I made a promise. I was a volunteer teacher at an informal school for street children in Kenya. My students were orphans, homeless kids, former prostitutes, very poor kids, and children just released from juvenile jails. Yet every young face had one thing in common: the indomitable desire to learn. I told them: “If you work hard to change your lives, I will work hard to support you.” This letter is a message of thanks to all of you who have helped keep that promise.
Your support has helped build Jitegemee, Inc., a non-profit organization dedicated to expanding educational opportunities for street children. This year – five years after the first Jitegemee student took a seat in an elementary school – we are celebrating our first graduating class of 8th graders who are taking exams to get into high school. Because of the generosity of people like you, these students have received school fees, books, school uniforms, emergency health care, AIDS education, food assistance, after-school tutoring and special educational programs. They got, in the words of 8th grader Musa Tom, a “second life.”
This year we have made new strides towards creating a vocational workshop where street children can master trades like carpentry and welding – and, in turn, teach other street children. A foundation that prefers to remain anonymous has pledged to match donations we receive this year, dollar for dollar, up to $10,000. To take advantage of this rare gift, we must raise at least $10,000. So far, we are half-way there.
So a contribution now means more than ever. A gift of $50 or $100 roughly covers the cost of an education and other basic expenses for a child for one year. A gift of $500 or $1,000 will help us lay the foundation for a vocational training program that will help secure a future for many more children.
Just so you can read on your own the impact that these contributions make in the everyday lives of Jitegemee’s kids, here are some excerpts from letters the children have written to Jitegemee’s sponsors this summer.
“I like school because now I am not the same way I was long ago,” wrote Kioko Mutiso, 6th grader. “Now I know everything. I was not knowing how to count, but now I can count from one to a million.”
“When I started to go to school, my life changed because I know how to read,” wrote Muasya Peter, 5th grader. “When I am a big person, I can become a big person in our country, like president [or] professor.”
“When you sponsor me my life changed to a good one, because I was playing with bad people,” wrote 8th grader Wavinya Monicah. “Thank you for removing me from bad people.”
“I like school because it is an important place to be,” wrote Mutua Kieti, 6th grader. “When I was not in school, I was a street boy. But I prayed and asked Jesus if I can get a place to be learning. After one week, I was sitting down and asking myself, saying if someone can’t take me and sponsor me to school. After one hour I saw a man coming across me. The man asked me, ‘Where do you learn?’ I explained to him my problems. Then he told me that there is a school for children who are in the streets which is known as Katoloni Rehabilitation Centre. When I went there I learned there for four years. And then I was sponsored to [a formal] school. In school, I passed all the examinations from standard two to six [the 2nd grade to the 6th grade], where I am now. The first term of this year I was top of my class.”
“When I had not started schooling, I thought that my life was useless,” wrote Muli Kieti, an 8th grader. “Due to my schooling, I am able to do many things.” Over the last five years, Jitegemee, Inc has:
- Given teachers’ training and classroom resources to the Katoloni Rehabiliation Centre, an informal classroom for street children in Machakos, Kenya
- Provided on-going support for 50 children in elementary schools and high schools Supported 5 vocational apprenticeships
- Provided access to cooperative farm land for about 35 mothers
- Provided special educational opportunities for over 150 street children, including visits to the Animal Orphanage, the Giraffe Center and Kenya’s national museum in Nairobi as well as a three-day trip to Mombasa
As we arrive at this five year milestone, we would like to thank the people and organizations who have given us support—monetary and moral—since 1997: Harvard University’s Phillips Brooks House, the Stride Rite Foundation, the Harnisch Family Foundation, Harvard University’s IMPACT student group, Kathleen Ahmad, an anonymous donor and countless others.
Also, we specially acknowledge the people who have given to us every year: Larry Langdon, Patricia Broen, Alyce Bibbs, Juanita Doty, Earleen May Redding, Lois Bloom and George and Ida Stockman. And, of course, none of this progress would have been possible without our tireless new board of directors.
By Farah Stockman