Canadian Living – A door to opportunity opens in rural Kanya

Kenneth Basanga

August 31, 2018

Canada’s WE Charity builds a college with donor support so students can build skills and careers.

Girls who were once responsible for trudging across Kenya’s Maasai Mara to fetch water can finally choose another path—one that leads them right into the classrooms of WE College. And all it took was a quiet revolution in female education and opportunity.

WE Charity, which is winning awards and supporters for its sustainable and holistic development work, is providing an opportunity for disadvantaged girls and women to train for careers in their own backyard.

When 22-year-old Valentine Chepkorir dragged her luggage through the front doors of WE College a year ago, she was the first member of her family to attend post-secondary education. The fifth of eight siblings, Chepkorir attended primary and secondary schools built by WE Charity. There were no affordable colleges in the Maasai Mara region—the majority of post-secondary institutions in Kenya are located in large and distant cities, so children from rural families can’t afford to go. WE Charity and its donors built a college for male and female students and raised money for scholarships. Valentine is one over 60 students to be offered a scholarship by WE. “When I got the call informing me that I had a scholarship, I cried,” she says.

Valentine entered WE College’s School of Tourism. Schools of nursing, clinical medicine and entrepreneurial agriculture have also opened up, providing women with a range of options and opportunities for them. “These young women will gain employment and improve the standard of living for themselves and their families,” says college principal Gertrude Manani.

From the early offerings of primary education 20 years ago, the organization created its five-pillar model to provide education, water, health, food and opportunity for the community.

WE Charity’s Baraka Hospital Maternity Wing was voted best in its county in 2015 by the Narok County District Quality Assurance Team. Kisaruni All Girls High School consistently ranks in the top five percent of all the high schools in Narok County.

Beyond donor support, WE Charity’s work is also powered by an innovative partnership with ME to WE, a social enterprise that sells socially conscious hand-crafted Artisans accessories to Western consumers made by women in WE Charity communities. ME to WE also offers immersive volunteer trips to international communities where WE Charity does holistic development work.

Half of all ME to WE’s profits are donated to support WE Charity, while the other half is reinvested to grow the social enterprise. Since 2009, ME to WE has donated over $16 million in cash and cost-offsetting in-kind donations to WE Charity. Additionally, every time a ME to WE product is purchased additional funds go to WE Charity communities overseas to further support its development work.

The other half of ME to WE’s profits are used to build infrastructure for the social enterprise, such as the Bogani Luxury Cottages and Tented Camps in the Maasai Mara and Toriana Beach House, on Kenya’s coast, where adult travellers stay. These ME to WE properties also help to create a separate sustainable revenue stream for the international development work of WE Charity.

Russ McLeod, chief operations officer of ME to WE, says the social enterprise’s immersive travel experiences enable youth to volunteer in communities where WE Charity has a long history of sustainable development and also give adult travellers an opportunity to stay in comfortable facilities while immersing themselves in local culture.

Each entity—WE Charity and ME to WE—operates separately, with its own staff, budgets, board of directors and financial controls.

WE recently opened a Women’s Empowerment Centre in the area, where women learn financial literacy and entrepreneurship. They come together to bead and find an international market for their work. More than 1,400 women earn a living through beading as part of ME to WE’s Artisans program.

Naitalala Nabala creates beautiful strings of bright colours known internationally as Rafikis. Taught by her mother (who learned from her own mother), she was 12 when she first made a beaded necklace, and this gift has enabled her to earn enough money to pay for her children’s education. “Beading is part of our tradition, but I want more for them. They must go to school.”

The quiet revolution in Kenya’s Maasai Mara continues. One school house, one empowered woman, one Rafiki bracelet sold and one traveller at a time leading to thousands of lives forever impacted.