It’s always been because of John

 

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Matt Severson and John Medo, 2009

John Medo was more than a friend.

But John Medo was also the best friend you could hope to have.

We waited to post this until we could privately contact all those who knew John through TSF. It never gets easy saying or writing this. On March 27, John Medo passed away in a bus accident in Tanzania. As you likely know, John was the inspiration for TSF and has spent the past few years—while in school and starting university—supporting our work in Tanzania. In 2009, while on a trip to Tanzania, our founder Matt Severson met John, learned what a threat school fees were to John’s continued education. Matt paid John’s school fees and then came home to found The School Fund to help other young people like John.

 

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John Medo and Matt Severson

John was on his way to meet Matt in Iringa when John, along with five others, died in the accident.

Over the years John became like a brother to Matt. For so long, we’ve been in awe of John, watching him work his way through university. John was just two years from completing a university degree in business, in a country where less than one in three students complete high school. We were fairly certain he really would be president—which is what he told Matt the first time they met, even when he wasn’t sure how he’d be able to stay in school. He was that kind of guy, so full of promise and potential that he could see reason for hope beyond even the most daunting obstacles.

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John Medo

It’s been a hard couple of weeks. As we try to make sense of the loss, we know John’s life, his inspiration, will not be forgotten. His legacy is woven into the fabric of The School Fund. We wouldn’t be us without him. We are still reeling with the loss of our friend, and all this week we’ve been sharing posts others have made about John, including this beautiful tribute by our friends at the Skees Family Foundation. In coming months we hope to formalize John’s memory as part of TSF, perhaps with a scholarship fund. If you have any ideas or suggestions, please let us know.


Our Ecuadorian Students Are Safe

Last weekend, the world paused in concern and mourning as a 7.8-magnitude earthquake rocked Ecuador, killing hundreds and injuring thousands. We were relieved when our partners at The Condor Trust for Education let us know that their students and staff were safe. Although they felt the earthquake in Quito, where Condor Trust is located, the damage was concentrated along the coast.

We are relieved and grateful for the safety of our partners, students and friends, but join the world in grieving for those whose lives were lost and forever changed by the earthquake.

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Condor Trust students Jennifer, Christian and Anita

 

 

Keep a girl in school…

And watch the world change!

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It’s Women’s History Month, and our partners and friends at Kenya Connect have been all over Twitter this month, with the #PovertyIsSexist campaign. It’s true. Girls growing up in poverty are worse off. They are less likely to stay in school than their male counterparts, setting them up for lower wages and limited financial opportunity.

But with each year of secondary education, girls’ eventual annual wages go up by 15-25 percent. They are less likely to become child brides, stay healthier themselves, have healthier children and smaller families.

By supporting education through The School Fund, you’re helping girls and women break out of poverty.


 

Here’s how we’ve been moving the needle for girls

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Milaan students, (from left to right) Shivanshi, Dolly and Babli

Our Honor Roll members contribute monthly to support a student each month who won’t meet his or her funding goal by deadline. These funds recently went toward scholarships for girls from Milaan, our partner in India that has built a secondary school to serve over 20 villages in a rural region of Uttar Pradesh. Milaan also runs a program to help get girls who’ve dropped out back to school. These are girls, like Shivanshi who also farm to support their families, girls like Dolly whose families keep them out of school because of the dangers associated with walking such long distances alone, and girls like Babli, who grew up in intense poverty but now dream of becoming doctors.

 


SUPPORTER SPOTLIGHT

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Our founder Matt Severson recently used our new fundraising tool to collect the best gift we can imagine. For his 27th birthday, he asked friends and family to donate to student scholarships. Matt zipped right past his goal and raised a whopping $3,063. As one of his supporters wrote “This is the best use of our money I can possibly think of!”

Of course, we agree.

So do the students who got the gift of education for Matt’s birthday!

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To set up your own fundraiser, visit Classy or email Liz Texeira for details. If you’re not ready to start your own fundraiser, consider joining the Honor Roll, which allows you to make an ongoing impact for as little as $5/month.

From Civil War and Drought, to the Promise of School Days

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Today we’re spotlighting ASEM (Association Pour Les Enfants de Mozambique), a partner that provides education, shelter, food and a new start to students in Mozambique.

ASEM’s founder, Barbara Hofmann was a financial manager in Geneva in the late 1980s. She was about to start her own business when the stock market crashed, and instead she took a job in Mozambique. It was during the final years of the country’s brutal, bloody, civil war, and Barbara was struck by the sheer number of children who were orphans or who had simply lost their parents during the chaos of war.

She started by founding a Swiss nonprofit, ASEM, while at the same time daily scouring for food scraps to make enough soup to feed the children who came to her. (If you know the children’s story “Stone Soup,” the tale in which every member of the village contributes an ingredient, you’ll have a sense for these meals.)

After the war ended, Barbara was able to put together a few tents, safe places for the children to sleep and go to school. These were children who, she remembers, had to adjust to the idea that they wouldn’t be murdered or raped in their sleep. Many had previously prostituted for food.

After the war there was a three year drought, and more starvation and suffering, the ravages of HIV/AIDS, and more orphans.

It’s a story that began in tragedy, but with incredible perseverance, and a staff powered by a pure-hearted duty to Mozambique’s children, today ASEM is supported by affiliate foundations in Italy, Portugal, and the U.S.

ASEM grew, with more schools and centers to support orphaned children. Over the years, more than 20,000 children have come to ASEM for school, health care, food, shelter and psychological support. Hundreds have been reunited with their families or extended families, to help them reintegrate into a more normal life. As they graduate, students are enrolled at vocational training colleges or given help finding jobs.

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You can support ASEM’s students at The School Fund, and get to know what life is like today for children in Mozambique.

The School Fund’s 1st White Paper! (It’s About Education in Kenya)

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Today, The School Fund is releasing the first in a series of white papers, this one focused on school access in Kenya—what limits access to education there, and how organizations like our partner Wema Children’s Centre have been able to expand that access, with your support.

Here are some realities in Kenya:

  • A quarter of all children drop out between primary and secondary school
  • Three factors greatly determine a child’s likelihood of enrolling in school: gender, rural background and family income
  • The annual cost of secondary education is twelve to twenty times more than the monthly income of parents in rural areas

page01We’ve learned a lot as we’ve built The School Fund. We’ve also learned how partners like Wema are changing these realities for students every day, thanks to your support.

Please read and share “Dynamics of Education in Kenya: From School Access to Equity and Quality” with your network. We’re proud to begin offering deeper insights into global education to those who have been with us, trying to improve access to education, for so many years.

Teresa’s Story

BY LAURA D’ASARO, Wema Children’s, co-founder and vice president

I am at a public school in Kenya. In a tiny room sit 200 first graders, cross-legged on the floor. Shouting above the noise from the classroom next door penetrating the thin walls of the classroom, the teacher, Teresa, tries to teach the children to read, explaining the rules of pluralization. She patiently repeats and explains, but keeping 200 seven-year-olds engaged and learning is nearly impossible, and the stark reality is that most of these students will drop out before high school and many will never learn to read, as is shown by the 50% illiteracy rate of the community surrounding the school.  Teresa finishes the lesson and walks out the door, a stream of screaming children flowing out around her and walks across the red dirt road. She walks through a gate labeled “Wema Childen’s Centre” in hand-painted letters, and finally sits down, exhausted.

Teresa in the public school classroom.

Teresa in the public school classroom.

My name is Laura D’Asaro. I met Teresa while studying abroad in college, helped connect Wema to the School Fund, and still serve on the Wema Children’s board. However, Wema is Teresa’s school and this is Teresa’s story. I feel like so often these stories are about us Americans and our role in helping Africa, so I wanted this to be about the woman who started her own school across the street from the public one where she teaches to give her village an education and a future that would otherwise be impossible, and who inspires me to help her make this dream possible.

Teresa grew up during a time when in Kenya there was still very little education, especially for girls. So by the time Teresa started school, her father had given up on girls and on her education and refused to support her. However, although her mom was illiterate, she knew other women who had gotten some education and seemed better for it. Teresa’s mom did extra odd jobs to make money for Teresa’s school fees and when the other kids were on holiday, Teresa worked on farms to support her education. Teresa fought for her education and was one of the lucky ones who learned enough in public school to continue her education past eighth grade. However, when you get her talking about public school, her passion and anger is contagious.

“Many children are in school doing what when they are not even succeeding!?” she says, as we walk down the road past a farm where a woman is hammering the ground rhythmically, breaking up the hard dirt for planting. “You find that they don’t improve their literacy level at those public schools. You find children in class three cannot even read and write, and those who go up to class seven can still not read and write. They have come out of grade eight and they are not enabled in anything! They just go back and live like their parents, so there is a difference in quality of education, that which enables and that which locks out everyone to stay the way they are!”

So Teresa and her husband Stephen started Wema. Wema started as a private school and became one of the best in Western Kenya. Paying students come from around the area to attend and get the high quality education unavailable at public school, but Teresa didn’t just want to start another private school. She wanted to help those who couldn’t afford this quality of education, so the funds from tuition are used to enable poor and orphaned students in the community to also study and live there. However, there are always too many students who want to attend and not enough money.

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Teresa and Stephen

Stephen works at a sugar factory as a chemist to support the orphanage and Teresa walks everyday across that road to teach at the public school to bring in extra income.

It’s not easy. “Wema has taken a lot of the family resources,” she tells me. “We would have ventured into other businesses and would be more richer!” she says, cracking into a smile. “But we looked at our community and said, people who make a difference in their places are just like us!”

But if you ask Teresa why she has given her life to this, she will light up and tell you.

“In Kenya, education is the only tool to finish the problem of the people,” she says, her dark eyes bright with passion. “Otherwise any other way does not work. Like you give them food, tomorrow they will still need the food. They will still retain the poverty. The needs will still be there. But if you invest in education, you are enabling them to be, to improve economically, so they will be empowered in the mind and go in for quality, and on their own they will improve.”

“…every time I leave the village and head back down those red dirt roads to my black paved ones, I think about how much better every community would be if they had a Teresa.”

And it takes just one look to see what she means. I meet a girl named Faith, who come from a family where nobody can read, sitting outside reading a book. I talk to a boy named Wellington who was orphaned due to AIDS and he tells me with the biggest smile that he wants to be a doctor. Teresa can already see the village changing. There’s a new well now at Wema that the community uses to obtain water. They have a computer lab, and children and adults who have never touched a computer tentatively poke at the keyboard, trying to find the letters to write their first words. There’s a waitlist to get in longer than Teresa will ever be able to accommodate, and everyday as she walks back from the public school, exhausted, she thinks of how if they could just let in one more child, what a difference that could make in his or her life. And every time I leave the village and head back down those red dirt roads to my black paved ones, I think about how much better every community would be if they had a Teresa.

So here’s to all the unsung heroes who spend their lives making their villages and their communities stronger and to The School Fund for connecting us to them and giving us a glimpse of the value of education and what one determined person and their big ideas can do with a little help.

You can support Wema students through The School Fund.

Wema: Building One of Kenya’s Top Schools, for Orphans of HIV/AIDS, Political Unrest

BY ALEX BREININ, Wema Children President

Meet Wema
Wema Children’s Centre is a school and orphanage located in Western Kenya that educates 532 children in primary and secondary school. Seventy-two of these students are currently featured on The School Fund, and with the generosity and support of donors, we have the opportunity to fund their educations and board at Wema. The majority of these students are orphans and without Wema would not be able to attend school. With Wema, these students will be the first people in their families to attend university, enabling them to obtain good paying jobs and thereby help their community.

Teresa Wati and Stephen Juma, who grew up in the village surrounding Wema, co-founded it under the name meaning “goodness.” Teresa started her career as a public school teacher and wanted to uplift her community through education.

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Founders, Teresa Wati and Stephen Juma.

Teresa and Stephen began Wema’s primary school in 1999 under the name Highway Academy at the peak of the HIV/AIDS crisis when their village had an estimated adult HIV/AIDS rate of 30 percent. More than half of the community was also illiterate. Each class in the community’s public school contained 150 students or more in an open-air classroom with no learning materials. Despite the best efforts of teachers, learning was difficult if not impossible. Wema was desperately needed.

In 2008, Wema was started with the goal of providing an education to all deserving students, whether or not they could afford the tuition price. It was an alternative to the overcrowded, under-resourced public school. Students who showed potential in public school were offered admission.

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Wema’s primary students.

While Wema continued to thrive in delivering the same high quality education that Highway Academy did before and the school maintained its ranking in the top 100 primary schools in Kenya, it had no way of continuing the massive financial investment in students’ educations. Funds from paying students and additional donations from the community were not enough to balance its budget.

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Wema students, hard at work.

By chance, I was fortunate to learn about Wema and volunteer there. My friend Laura D’Asaro was studying abroad in Kenya and found out about Wema through a security guard on her street. Though she was an 18-hour bus trip away, Stephen and Teresa traveled to her asking Laura to invite friends to visit and volunteer. The following January, Laura and I, along with three other friends, traveled to Wema to see how we could help. When we arrived in 2011, we saw the wonderful opportunity to help uplift and change a community for the better. Everything at Wema was working. Students were receiving an excellent education thanks to their 30 dedicated teachers. They also worked extremely hard and valued their educations greatly. When I asked the students what they wanted to be, almost all said, a doctor, teacher, lawyer, engineer, or pilot. They knew that education is a privilege and wanted to take full advantage of it.

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Alex Breinin, Wema Children’s president, and Wema students.

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Wema students working at the computer lab.

Prepared for University
Over the last five years with the help of The School Fund, we have been able to make Wema’s budget fiscally sustainable while increasing the number of Wema students by approximately 150 and building a secondary school so that all students who cannot afford school fees can receive a free education until they attend university.

The majority of Wema students attend university on a scholarship due to their high exam scores on the national standardized test and almost all pursue additional post-secondary school education opportunities. Without the support of donors through The School Fund, this would not have been possible. All donors are welcomed to connect with the students they sponsor, and I’m proud that several have traveled to Wema to meet the students and volunteer.

You Can Make the Difference
During the next two weeks, I hope you consider joining The School Fund’s campaign for Wema Children’s Centre to support the hardworking, talented, and caring students in Bukembe, Kenya. One-hundred percent of the donations raised will be spent on the students’ educations.

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Click the above image to meet Wema’s students and help fund their educations.

Since my initial trip, I have visited several more times and continue to volunteer from the U.S. because I believe Wema is an incredible organization that is not only changing the lives of hundreds of students, but also is empowering a community to uplift itself.

For only $500 a year, you can change a student’s life and help the Wema community continue to flourish. And by crowdfunding through The School Fund, we can all be part of reaching that goal for every student.

Nice seeing you again

Together we support young people. We root for them. And each year, graduates head off to work or start university, more equipped for life thanks to the education you helped provide.

It’s about growth. And we’re growing too.

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If you haven’t stopped by The School Fund recently, please take a moment. We upgraded our website to better highlight our students and make our message even clearer: all of us, together, can help ensure that smart, capable students have access to education, no matter what their families’ income.

It’s nice seeing The School Fund in this crisp, beautiful new way.

It’ll be nice seeing you again too!

–The School Fund Team

P.S. Match Day is tomorrow, (100% match for 24 hours). Click the Google calendar button to open your calendar and add an invite for ALL DAY, August 4th!

Travel with Kenya Connect

Let’s talk numbers: 300 books. 1,500 toothbrushes. 17 clicking computer mouses.

It’s not just a random list of objects. It’s a tally of our partner Kenya Connect’s impact thus far as its team has headed to Kenya to officiate this year’s graduation ceremony and spend time learning with students there.

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We’re so grateful for their travelogue—scenes from Kenya. Moments that demonstrate how much an investment in a student’s education matters.

We’ve loved reading how our friends at Kenya Connect brought along 300 books to supplement the Learning Resource Library. (Imagine having your library doubled in a day to measure how special that gift was.) With them, they carried 1,500 toothbrushes for students, donated by supporters in the U.S. This week, Kenya Connect visited 12 of The School Fund’s students, and announced to them that Kenya Connect wants to enter the Governor’s Film Festival Contests featuring TSF students!

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Kenya Connect has made it easy to picture—easy to almost hear—the sound of 34 students, clattering at 17 computers, and learning computer coding for the first time. These are scenes of learning. Scenes of promise. Scenes of education pursued.

Follow their 2015 yourself at their travel blog and meet some of Kenya Connect’s remarkable students at The School Fund.

Meet a Future Cardiothoracic Surgeon

Have you ever met someone—a doctor, a quantum physicist, a political activist—so brilliant that you catch yourself wondering what they were like in their youth? Did they exude genius? Did those who knew them suspect they were destined for greatness?

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Felix M.

Here’s your chance to see what people in the future will only guess at. Young Felix Mushi, of Highlands Secondary School, Tanzania, one day plans to be a cardiothoracic surgeon, and we bet people will marvel at him, and wonder what it would have been like to know him when he was just starting out.

We recently received a video of him, describing heart anatomy to his classmates, narrating what he learned in his most recent dissection, and explaining the physiology of the heart and normal blood flow. Go ahead, and watch this bright young mind at work!

(Warning: if dissections make you queasy, this video might not be for you.)

To learn more about Felix, read this interview conducted last year, by The School Fund’s first student, John Medo.

Fifth Graders Help Keep a Kenyan Ninth Grader in School

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There are a number of ways to tell this story. There’s the short and sweet: fifth graders in St. Louis funded a Kenyan girl’s education. Despite the ocean and miles in between, they’ve become friends.

That version leaves out the heart of the story, however; the coincidence, the effort, and the good fortune that connected a group of American middle-schoolers to a Kenyan girl named Mwongeli, who goes by “Janet,” and who wants to grow up to be a pilot.

Mark Cicero is the father of one of those St. Louis students at Our Lady of the Pillar. Twenty years ago and right after college, he spent four months in Kakamega, Kenya. He taught English and social ethics, and he even started a zero grazing unit for the village, a way of farming that takes up little space and resources. He also learned about school fees firsthand, having funded the education of a student from the compound where he lived for four years. So last year, when Mark was asked to speak at the school’s mission festival, he gave them a window into a different life—one that, among other realities, does not guarantee an education.

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Fifth grade students from Our Lady of the Pillar.

Mark has been loaning money to individuals in Kenya through Kiva for a few years now, and after Mark told his daughter’s class about his experiences, they made a decision to help out and raise money by doing chores and similar tasks. This year the fundraiser grew to include a movie day organized with the help of two dedicated teachers and Mark. It went even better than anticipated. As Mark wrote us, “In fact, this year, they raised so much that I brought forward the idea of funding an education of a secondary student in Kenya.”

Mark learned about The School Fund from Kiva and began searching for a student to support. “I was biased toward Kenya,” he said, due to his time there. He read through Janet’s profile, her interests, scholastic achievements, background, family and siblings. “It felt natural,” says Mark, “she reminded me of the family I stayed with in Kenya.”

And who wouldn’t want to support Janet? The fifth of six children, she’s watched her brothers grow up to attend school. But with outstanding fees, they never received their graduation certificates and could not pursue further education. Janet was top in her primary school, and is a beautifully well-rounded young woman. She loves football, running, and knitting. She wants to be a pilot—she is working hard at school so that one day, she will quite literally fly.

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Janet, Mark, and Our Lady of the Pillar’s fifth grade class have been keeping in touch via The School Fund’s online journal. Janet recently wrote the class, “I am overwhelmed with joy for your generous support towards my school fees for 2015. My gratitude goes to all the 5th grade class at Our Lady of the Pillar. Your support for my education is an answer to prayer.”

When we think about some of our own lives, it’s often chance and good timing that initially opened the door to some of our most meaningful experiences. It was Mark’s time in Kenya that eventually led him to introduce Janet to his daughter’s class. It was a healthy dose of initiative and hard work that resulted in plentiful funding, enough to support individuals on Kiva and Janet. As Mark told us, “I don’t think that the kids understood the magnitude—and the gratification—of what they did, until now.” Janet is letting them know how much it means that these fifth graders are invested in her—and not just financially. They care about her future. And we get the sense that this is a friendship that will last.

Teachers, let us know how you are connecting with The School Fund’s students in your classroom—and parents, as you create meaningful summer projects to do with your kids!