The Nobelity Project
A Journey of Steps
Hi friends. I’ve just returned from Kenya where we opened new classrooms, preschools, water projects and even a new high school basketball court. We also broke ground on many new school projects that will be finished by the time I return in May. This process of learning, evaluation, funding and construction has become a routine for us the past years, but there is nothing routine about the work or the satisfaction of seeing thousands of appreciative young people take the next step as their education opportunities grow and grow.
I’ve had a long journey in Kenya, a journey that began 17 years ago with Wangari Maathai, the first African woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize. Wangari was a woman of leadership and action. She fought her whole life for women’s rights and she founded and led the Green Belt Movement which empowered rural women to plant tens of millions of trees, a nation-wide forest that inspired world-wide efforts to plant billions of trees (and a movement that may eventually restore degraded lands across the globe with a staggering one trillion trees).
Wangari’s invitation to join the Green Belt Movement in Kenya led to my first visit to a Kenyan school, remote and dusty Mahiga Primary, where I helped plant 200 trees with the students at the school. Planting trees led to so much more, and as we built beautiful Mahiga Secondary and rebuilt Mahiga Primary, the kids kept planting, 4,000 trees on a school campus that once had none. Those 4,000 trees are now a forest, and many of the first seedlings are 50’-tall. Those first kids are grown now, too, many of them out of college with families of their own. Some of them are teachers.
I couldn’t have imagined anything better than those outcomes, but Mahiga was just the first step of many. Every school we’ve worked at has been another step and a new journey with a community doing their best with limited resources to help their kids get a good education. We called our work Bridging Gaps in Education. And there were a lot of gaps: gaps in the long distances between rural schools that needed filling with new schools in between; gaps in the number and quality of classrooms (it’s hard to learn in a classroom with dust or even rain blowing through the slats in the walls), gaps in clean drinking water and sanitation, gaps in access to books and early education and much more.
Fifty steps have taken me to fifty schools where we’ve partnered with local communities to build hundreds of classrooms, preschools, libraries, science labs, dining halls and kitchens, toilets and more. In my mind, every one is more beautiful than the next.
This trip, as with every time I’m in Kenya, the heartfelt love and thanks I’ve received from thousands of students, teachers and parents is love and thanks that flows through me to each and every person who’s been a part of this journey. I still get emotional at every one of these project openings, as I did this time when we cut the ribbon on the beautiful new “Modern Library”, when I watched the boys and girls basketball teams at Ol Moran Secondary running drills on their new “Love Tito’s” basketball court, at many classroom and preschool openings, and in particular at the barren landscape of Tangi Nyeusi Primary where we’ve partnered with Ol Pejeta Conservancy and with our Austin partners, Well Aware, on a transformation that has taken Tangi from 80 students to 330 in one year, many of them youngsters from pastoralist families whose children didn’t go to school at all.
It’s been a long journey and it’s not over yet. Though I just broke ground on another big round of school projects, there is more to be done, more education gaps to be bridged, more preschools and libraries to build, more top-scoring students to send on to University. Christy and I are going to hang in there with this work as long as we can keep it going. And with every passing year, I feel more and more grateful to all of you, those who believe in the simple idea that every kid deserves an education and opportunity in this world. It's been a journey of steps, but the journey is not over. And I hope many of you will continue to take this journey with me.
Our end-of-year campaign email went out this evening with links to our Giving Circle members and for donations of any amount. All donations receive a set of these beautiful new 5 x 7 greeting cards. Here's the donation link