Driving through the small town of Iten, nestled atop Kenya's Great Rift Valley escarpment, the Cross World Africa team turned onto a dirt road that led to the gates of Mindililwo Primary school. The painted concrete gates proudly display the school's name and motto, and are surrounded by lush greenery and overhanging acacia trees. This beauty however, is juxtaposed against the stark poverty surrounding the school's grounds. Corrugated tin roofs, rusted from rainfall and the harsh equatorial sun, are hurdled throughout the country side. This village, being closer to city limits, is constrained and unable to produce the crops necessary to support their families. Raising money for school fees becomes are burden many families cannot bear. The result is a school that fails to produce students who perform well on national exams and tests, and therefore receives less aid from the county and the nation. Mindililwo represents the inequality CWA is committed to overcoming.
The 2019 CWA campaign selected this school as part of its continued effort to overcome the inequalities afflicting children living throughout the rural regions of western Kenya. The selection process was led by CWA local project leader Robert Kiptoo, who targeted this school specifically because of its dire needs for new facilities and scholarships for the students. Robert has worked with CWA since 2008, and has been instrumental is identifying educational shortfalls throughout Iten. Driving through the gates, it was easy to see that Robert's efforts to bring CWA to Mindililwo were not lost on the community.
The gates receded to reveal what looked like a parade leading into the center of the school. Hundreds of students waved and shouted excitedly as the van pulled up to them. As our team exited the vehicles, we were greeted by village leaders and their parents, who were effusive with praise for the work CWA was doing for their children and their community's school.
Amidst shouts and songs, Robert led the CWA team and Mindililwo teachers into a nearby classroom where he explained some of the improvements made because of CWA's generous donors and staff.
"This room was empty before CWA came to our school. Now, as you can see behind me, we have a new library, full of books, that will help our students read and succeed in the coming year." Robert went on to explain how CWA's support helped the school raise the funds for a new soccer field, complete with goal posts. Once again, the parents broke out into applause, a joy that was only matched by the students eagerly waiting to play with the soccer balls tucked beneath the arms of the CWA team members.
Leaving the library, the village elders led our team to the center of the school grounds to take part in a ceremony commemorating the day. In their hands were young saplings that they desired to plant in a circle. Team members, Mindililwo teachers, and students worked together to plant the trees as a symbol of the growing relationship CWA and this community had begun.
Following the ceremony, Robert ushered the students and parents towards a set of benches arranged as part of the afternoon assembly. The CWA team had asked Robert to organize the event in order to hand out scholarships to the top eight female and top eight male students attending the school. Each student was presented with a certificate commemorating their achievement and a new backpack for the upcoming semester. These scholarships not only give the students a goal to strive for, but alleviate the pressure of affording school fees that many of Kenya's brightest students struggle against.
After presenting the scholarships, our team then thanked the teachers with gifts from our donors, giving each a new computer tablet in hopes to signify our appreciation for their work. The games teachers were also presented with new uniforms for their athletic teams. The school's athletes were called to the front of the assembly and asked to put on the new kits, which they followed up with a loud cheer for Mindililwo! CWA team members then handed out soccer balls to the captains of the school's team. The look on their faces were priceless, and it was easy to see how eager they were to test out their new equipment on their new soccer field.
But before the games could begin, CWA president Eric Garvin called Robert Kiptoo up to the podium. Eric announced to the audience the importance Robert played in making this day, and the numerous projects, possible. Handing the mic off to CWA assistant director Andy Arnold, the praise for Robert continued, "Robert, you have been a friend of Cross World Africa for over a decade. You are a leader in your community, and your work has helped improve the lives of these children, their parents, and your community. Today, we would like to make you a formal member of the CWA family."
Andy handed Robert a CWA polo shirt as a symbol of him becoming part of the team. The village elders and students erupted into applause, and once again the music and dancing broke out among the Mindililwo community.
The day was a reminder of how important relationships are to community building and development. Cross World Africa's work would not be possible without the dedication and vision of local community leaders like Robert Kiptoo. These local leaders guide Cross World Africa, and ensure that our projects reach the people that need them most. It is a relationship that spans an ocean and two continents, and one that continues to make hope a reality.