A chance meeting at Pearson International Airport between an elite Kenyan runner and a Hamilton middle school teacher led to a school presentation outlining what it is like being a primary school student in a rural area of Kenya known as Ol Joro Orok.
Two students in the audience became so emotionally upset and angry with the school sanitary conditions they heard about that they decided to mobilize their entire school to initiate change. That effort became the project known as Road Race to Kenyan Relief. Quite unexpectedly, their actions set into motion a chain of events. Over the next few years their passionate notion of “giving back” developed into a registered Canadian charitable organization known today as Connecting Countries Adopt-a-School.
Though more refined and defined today, the founding students’ original mandate of empowering school children to assist other school children still remains firmly intact, and students remain at the centre of all efforts. In fact our thinking and actions are greatly influenced by those who really understand what is needed in the Kenyan schools: the students who attend these schools. We are told through Kenyan student letters
“We use latrines which even made us to have different kinds of diseases… we lost one of our school pupils who was ill because of going to such bad latrines.”
- Student, Kirima-Ngai Primary School, Ol Joro'orok, Kenya
“Our school has over 600 students we need about 16 more toilets.”
- Student, Madaraka Primary School, Ol Joro'orok, Kenya
The connections between sanitation and education cannot be overlooked. Most aspects of the Kenyan students’ lives at school are connected in some way to access to basic sanitation. This issue has focused our direction and ultimately that of our Canadian students. So serious is their commitment to improving the sanitation conditions in our “adopted” Kenyan schools that, since 2005 a large contingent of students at various schools within the greater Hamilton area have funded the building of almost 100 Ventilated Improved Pit (VIP) latrines and urinals at primary schools within the Ol Joro Orok/Nyahururu division of Central Kenya.
In addition, some local classrooms have decided that funding latrines in Kenya would become even more meaningful if they knew more about those who were to use them. What has emerged is an extensive Pen Pal Letter Program where cultural information is exchanged through thousands of hand written letters between students in Canadian and Kenyan schools.
Connecting Countries Adopt-a-School continues to empower school children in Kenya and in our Canadian community to become agents for social change. During a “Character Builds” presentation Carissa Borowitz, one of our two original founding members stated: “…if these children and I can be better focused and learn about ourselves we can improve our lives together and this has to make our worlds better places to live.”