In the village of Cura located in southern Kenya, near the outskirts of Nairobi, farmers make up almost all of its inhabitants.  They live off of the land and raise maize, cauliflower, broccoli, goats, pigs, and if they are lucky, cows.  In order to sell their products, they walk at least 30 minutes to the town of Wangige; or they go all the way to Nairobi on market day, which means they will wake up at 4am and ride in a van or bus for one hour.  The average farmer makes under $5 per day as the majority of the crops are needed to feed their families.

Until now, getting an education in Cura was not an easy feat.  It used to be that Cura residents had no place to send their children to school after primary school.  In Kenya, students take their exit exams in 8th grade and that determines where you go to secondary school – either a day school or a boarding school, but the school fees are steep.  Without a secondary school of their own, the only option was for students to travel over an hour and a half, walking most of the way and then riding on an overcrowded twenty-person van, which was often dangerous.  As a result, the majority of parents stopped sending their children to school, unless their child was at the top of their class.  A lot of young people wanted to continue their education, but it was just too hard or too expensive to go and they worked in the fields instead.  Still, they continued to envision a local, affordable secondary school to one day be built in the center of Cura.

The Cura Orphanage, a locally-based residence for fifty children that lost their parents to HIV/AIDS, decided to champion this cause.  The Orphanage plays a central role in the community, acting a catalyst to many community-based projects, including a library, computer room and a bee-keeping project.  Initially, they started reaching out to a number of their partner organizations abroad, namely Creative Visions, a U.S.-based 501(c)(3) organization.  This is how they raised the funds needed to construct the school building.  As the money was coming in, permits were being requested, plans were drafted, they started contacting organizations that had the technical expertise to oversee the construction of the building and they found Construction for Change.  Hayden Bixby, the International Program Coordinator for the Orphanage, took the lead in communication with CfC and after a few phone calls, it became apparent that they were having these conversations within five miles of each other, right here in Kirkland, WA!  Hayden felt as though “the stars had aligned” and CfC became Cura’s new partner.

CfC was lucky enough to find William Fort, a young, passionate and recent graduate of UW’s Construction Management program, to volunteer to be the Project Manager of the construction of the school.  Will came into the project with resolute enthusiasm.  Upon his first weeks in Kenya, Will said, “Everything about being here is truly unique and there hasn’t been a moment since I have got here that I have wanted to be anywhere else, and I already feel so at home.”  Though, not everything was smooth sailing throughout the construction process – three shovels broke the first day, trenches were dug too deep, it was a challenge to find adequate equipment and materials, and the original floor plan had to be changed.  Nevertheless, Will realized that with a new design, the school could be build a lot cheaper and more efficiently.  They decided to keep classrooms open and not waste space, so they opted for a more economical and safer design utilizing a fabricated trusses and metal deck system.  Overall, Will finished the project pretty much within budget and one month ahead of schedule.  Will attributes this accomplishment to a good relationship with the construction workers and setting high expectations.  Today, the school stands as the nicest building in Cura.  According to Hayden, “Will made such a big difference in community.  The people in Cura know that education is the key to building a sustainable future, and Will helped make this possible for them.” In Will’s own words,” Africa is amazing, I am so thankful for CfC to give me the opportunity…It was eye-opening living with an orphanage with 55 children who have less than most children I have ever known, yet are happier than 75% of children I know. They appreciate the little things, they enjoy the volunteers, but when they leave, it really hurts…  I want to keep connections with students.”

In August 2012, this community’s dream became a reality – the Cura Secondary School was built.  Regarding the impact the school will have, Hayden says, “You can’t even measure it, it is unbelievable…Having a school in the village means that those in extreme poverty who couldn’t send their children [to school] now can.  It is a new chapter for Cura village, it meets the needs of people who live there and creates opportunity for those children who want to go.”

In January 2013, 250 current primary students will advance to the Cura Secondary School.  The leadership within the community has been working hard to set up action plans and a budget that includes school supplies, text books, desks, etc.  Now that the community members of Cura have built the structure and proven demonstrated enrollment, the federal government will send teachers to the school at the start of next year.

Well done to everyone involved with the realization of the Cura Secondary School!  CfC is proud to have been a part of this inspirational project.

For the latest developments of Cura Orphanage and the new Secondary School, follow Cura’s blog

To read more stories from the field, read Will’s blog