In a small rural village without automobiles, running water or electricity, where two weeks of work can only pay for a single day of school and above all where students still dream of an education, the seemingly clichéd “I can change the world with just one dollar” no longer seems so trite.
One Dollar For Life (ODFL) sponsored a three-week summer trip to the village of Naro Moru in Kenya this summer, using the $9,400 it raised to help construct a classroom for 320 Kenyan children who had previously been attending classes in a horse barn.
ODFL founder senior Margaret Lewis visited Kenya last summer and said she “fell in love with the country and its people,” giving her the inspiration to found ODFL.
Margaret, club adviser and history teacher Robert Freeman, and about ten other members of ODFL arrived in Naro Moru in mid-June to find an entirely new environment scattered with exotic wildlife and scenery. They lived with host families during their stay, and the villagers were generally very friendly toward their guests.
Many luxuries that American teenagers have today are nonexistent in Naro Moru. most families own livestock, and milk is harvested manually from cows instead of being bought in a supermarket. Meals are prepared from scratch instead of being heated in a microwave. Instead of electric lights, the grandmother of senior Bobby McLean’s host family would grab hot coals with her bare hands to build a fire.
Children attending the school in Naro Moru range from ages 14 to 20 and attend school from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. Bobby’s host brother Simon consistently stayed up until 11 p.m. and woke up at 3:30 a.m. for a daily two-hour walk to school. Bobby met a Kenyan student who walked 16 kilometers (roughly 10 miles) to school. Having to walk similar distances to arrive at the new classroom, Bobby lost 15 pounds and exercised much more than he was used to.
“If I had a fraction of the work ethic of my host family, I could do anything,” Bobby said.
However, according to Freeman, two weeks of work is required to pay for a single day of school, which is too demanding for many Kenyan families. Sitting in on a class one day, Bobby witnessed the principal dismiss half a class because of unpaid fees. Bobby was shocked. Those who were sent home worked on the farm.
Despite their hardships, however, ODFL members constantly noticed that Kenyan children still hold a stunning devotion to their studies. Bobby, Margaret and Freeman all observed that Kenyan children were very diligent and attentive in class, and the concept of ditching class and cheating were not “even in their vocabulary.”
“They just treasure going to school,” Freeman said. “They work much harder than [Americans]. They realize that if they don’t get an education, all they’ve got are the chains of the past.”
The villagers depend on this type of work ethic to survive, and as Bobby said, “lazy is the last thing [one] would call them.” Walking home one day, Bobby sat down in the street to rest only to realize moments later that in Kenya there were no friends with cars or cell phones to bail him out.
“I realized that if I didn’t get my butt of the street, I wasn’t going home,” Bobby said.
As Margaret said, in this environment, their work ethic was the villagers’ “only way to succeed in life.”
Bobby observed that Kenyan children are exposed to a life of manual labor from a very early age and are therefore able to adapt to a style of living that Americans would normally think impossible.
“When I shook hands with the people who were building the classroom, their hands were like … cement,” Bobby said.
However, despite the very different lifestyle, Bobby noticed how closely Kenyan children resembled American teenagers, after witnessing a school prank that he could “definitely see someone over here doing.”
The experiences in Kenya left strong impressions on Margaret and Bobby, who returned with completely new perspectives on education and life in general.
“I learned to value education in a way that I never thought possible … to love life and be a better citizen in my country,” Margaret said.
ODFL has extended its influence across a large region of the country though the use of “student champions,” who act as sponsors of the program at other schools. Several states have already shown interest in the program, including Oregon, Illinois, Texas and Kansas.
“Our goal is to [introduce ODFL] at every school so that it becomes a brand name,” Freeman said. “If every student in America donates a dollar, we can build 1,000 schools a year.”
Future projects for ODFL include building schools in Ecuador and Tanzania and constructing an extension to a human health clinic in Nairobi to accommodate 400 people. According to Freeman, ODFL has raised $2,600 from the school so far, a $200 from last year.
“The best way to inherit a better world is to make a better world,” Freeman said. “If [anyone] know[s] kids that want to make bigger people of themselves, tell them about ODFL.”