Above photo: Kristina Lafferty (left to right), Mary Chocolate, Jamal Begg, Kennedy Prince, Mia MacInnis, Sabrina Dubach, Kirianne Ashley, Celena Hoeve, Amber Adjun, Ally MacInnis, Meghan Newberry, Minami Tsuboi, Cindy Ngo, and Connor Rocher visited Kenya in March.
By LAURA TESTER
Ecolé Sir John Franklin High School is about 13,000 kilometres away from the students it’s helping in Kenya and yet the impact is so powerful.
The school in Yellowknife, N.W.T. is changing the lives of rural schoolchildren thanks to its sponsorship of projects through A Better World Canada.
Principal Dean MacInnis has seen students benefit in many ways because they’ve played a direct hand in fundraising for an important project. Some have even visited Kenya to see completed projects.
“The impact will be life-lasting,” said MacInnis.
Mikelle Wile was a high school student there when she volunteered with A Better World in 2010 and thought the entire school could get on board. Thanks to her passion to help, students began fundraising for Simotwet Primary School, a nursery to Grade 8 school in Western Kenya overlooking the picturesque Great Rift Valley.
The Yellowknife public school has since raised about $38,500 for three classrooms, a kitchen/food storage facility, school uniforms as well as supplies for children at Simotwet and other places students have visited.
The classroom project was expanded to six, thanks to a matching donation from Alberta couple Jim and Gloria Stenhouse. It was finished in 2012.
The Bernard Melitz Foundation in Lethbridge, Alta. also contributed to the kitchen/food storage building.
The new classrooms were greatly needed at Simotwet Primary School where about 360 students attend.
“It was a structure, and I use that loosely, where rain and wind would come through the boards,” said MacInnis. “There was a dirt floor and the roof functioned somewhat.”
The kitchen’s condition was similar, but even worse because of cooking fire smoke filtering throughout.
The Yellowknife school has never committed itself to such large-scale projects overseas before partnering with A Better World, said MacInnis.
MacInnis and his wife, Pam Schlosser, a math department head and teacher at the school, made initial presentations to the entire school prior to fundraising. The key was to show the big difference they’d have on Kenyan schoolchildren, as well as how it would change their lives too.
“You’re going to be far more courageous, you’re going to have a different perspective and will think twice about things you read,” MacInnis would tell them. “It’s going to impact you for a lifetime. You’re going to want to tell your friends and pass it down to your kids.”
Students raised money in various ways, from car washes to loonie/toonie drives.
“We tried to do something where we were giving back in the community,” said MacInnis.
The school held two trips to Kenya — 13 students visiting the classroom project in 2012, and another 14 seeing the nearly completed kitchen/food storage facility last March.
Six of those who recently went were of aboriginal descent — the largest amount represented on an A Better World trip.
Among those is Jamal Begg, 15, who said he was impressed with the Maasai people and their way of dancing, similar to the aboriginal dancing back home.
“You can tell when you go there that family is a very important part of their culture,” said Begg, who has family from the northern Canadian tribe known as Gwich’in as well as from the island of Fiji.
Ally MacInnis, the eldest daughter of MacInnis and Schlosser, became more appreciative of her own family after visiting orphanages on both school trips to Kenya.
“It was pretty amazing to go on the trip and do all the fundraising and see all the impact it created,” said Ally, 16. “I really applaud (A Better World) for all it’s doing around the world and I’d like to continue to be in partnership with them.”
Grade 12 graduate Kirianne Ashley, 17, expressed pride after seeing the fruits of their labour back home in Yellowknife. Travelling through the slums of Nairobi also touched her.
“I hope that for the rest of my life I’ll be involved somehow with any sort of project or bettering the world in any way,” said Kirianne. “Who knows, maybe one day I’ll end up in Kenya, working in developing agriculture or something.”
After the trips were over, the trip participants made various presentations in the community.
MacInnis thanked the community, including the Yellowknife Education District No. 1 school board for approving a “high risk” trip.
“But when you’re travelling with an organization that has a reputation like A Better World and knowing very well the precautions and planning that took place — then it felt very confident in supporting our trip and our humanitarian venture,” said MacInnis.
He recommends other schools across Canada partnering with A Better World Canada.
“You can make a difference,” MacInnis said. “If you can do more than write a cheque, then it will have that much more impact on you as a person. You will tell someone and teach somebody about that experience and it will spread.”
MacInnis said the school may next look at fundraising for an 18-year-old Kenyan who had a stroke when she was 14.
“She needs some serious rehabilitation, but the family couldn’t afford it. We are looking at raising money to have her assessed through A Better World,” MacInnis said.
The school is also planning to do a large school project for completion in 2019. It’s anticipated that Simotwet will be self-sufficient by then, so other options are being considered, MacInnis said.
Rajah praised the Yellowknife school for its dedication, the most northerly school involved with A Better World.
“To see young people involved from northern communities is very inspiring,” he said.
Here is a recent article by Joseph Tunney in the Yellowknifer about the students as well: