Guest Blogger: Linda Sokoloski of Global Grannies, and a Collette Foundation donor
In November of 2010, I brought 22 volunteers along to visit the Tenderfeet School – the Collette Foundation’s Kenya project. What we didn’t know was how deeply the people that occupied that school would touch us all.
The hope and happiness the children displayed pulled at our heartstrings; and the determination and commitment from the teachers blew us away. Mama Margaret, who runs the school, is a truly amazing woman that is making a difference in many young lives in Nairobi. These children are the bright future of Kenya. Once we met them, we knew we wanted to be a part of the mission too.
After visiting the school, we came together to make a donation to the Tenderfeet School to help provide the students with uniforms. Receiving a photo of all the children holding a sign thanking us was a very humbling and proud moment. It reminded me how in need these students are, and made me want to do more.
On the anniversary of our visit, the ladies and I decided to do something really special. We collected enough donations to have a water tank built at the school and to send all of Tenderfeet’s students on an educational field trip to the Nairobi Zoo. It meant a lot to be able to provide the school with a physical necessity as well as an experience that we hope they will keep with them for the rest of their lives.
The yearly connection our group has with the Tenderfeet School reminds me just how good giving back feels.
“Asante Sana” is a phrase we learned during our visit which means “many thanks.” The children at the school said it to us when we left as they waved goodbye. Now, it’s our turn to say “Asante Sana!” to the children and teachers at the remarkable Tenderfeet School.
My Visit to the Tenderfeet School
I have wanted to visit the Tenderfeet school for a few years now, since the Collette Foundation first introduced this incredible project. Located on the outskirts of Nairobi, conditions here are bleak at best with an estimated 1 million people living in a 1 square mile radius. There is no running water, no electricity and no employment. Most families in Kibera live on $1 per day.
We were greeted immediately by all of the students upon arrival with beautiful songs, skits, poems and many, many smiles. There are currently 105 students in the school ranging in age from 3 to 11 years old. The goal of the school is to provide a free education to less fortunate children, set the foundation of the importance of English studies to prepare them for a solid middle and high school education.
Each classroom houses a different grade starting with the little ones in pre-kindergarten and all the way up to 6th grade. The children are preparing for the entrance into middle school and are reading and writing above grade level and doing complex math equations. The children are all served breakfast and a hot lunch every day. These are typically the only meals these children receive during the day. If the school didn’t exist, these children may not eat at all, or if they are lucky would receive one meal per day. The school recently acquired a small plot of land next to the classrooms and they have planted a field of corn, to help with the daily meals.
The school bus picks the children up between 6 and 7 am and some of the children don’t go home until 6 or 7pm. These long days are typically a result of the children not having anyone at home to go home to, and the teachers all wait until there is a parent or guardian at home.
As we were meeting all of the students and classrooms, we were introduced to one special boy, Benson Ngecho (pictured above), who is currently battling Hodgkin’s Lymphoma and has a large tumor in his neck. He attends school, even though he is not feeling well, as it is a better alternative than being at home. He does what he can at school and rests when he is not feeling well. There is currently a fundraising campaign at the School to raise money for Benson’s cancer treatments. When we returned home, we gathered friends to help raise funds to make a donation to Benson’s cancer treatments.
After our overwhelming greeting by the children with many, many welcome songs and poems, Mother Margaret Nyabuto, the founder of the school, brought us into her office to show us the books and uniforms; she purchases all the fabric and yarn for the uniforms and then has a local tailor make all the uniforms, as she could never afford buying them in a store.
We donated 100 pair of girls’ underwear and 100 pair of boys’ underwear, as well as 100 pair of blue and black uniform socks to the school. “Mama Margaret” distributes these later to the students as necessary. We also gave all of the younger students toothpaste (pictured below), and donated 15 soccer balls the school. The kids played a pick-up soccer game for us and had a blast. Mama Margaret is a mother of four children herself and has also taken four of these orphaned children into her own home as they had no surviving family or relative to care for them. Her daughter is a teacher at school as well.
When we gave her our personal check as a donation to the school she cried and hugged us both and said, “this donation has given me the strength to continue.” Single-handedly, this woman cares for the health, welfare, nutrition and education of 105 kids. She said that it is a hard job, but with the support of donations like ours and the support of the Collette Foundation, it motivates her to continue her very important work at the school. Our donation is being used to finish the new two new classrooms that she just built as well as Benson’s cancer treatments.
Our support of the Tenderfeet School started long before our departure to Africa. At Christmas I make donations to six charities, one for each of my husband Gary’s children, one for Gary and one for our granddaughter Julia. Tenderfeet has an annual Christmas Uniform Drive in December to raise money for the children’s school uniforms. Some of the sweaters the kids are wearing are several years old and are passed from student to student and are unraveled up to their elbows.
This past Christmas, I was in for a wonderful and moving surprise. My stepson, Ryan, was the one I chose to make my donation in honor of this year. Not only did I pick the Tenderfeet School as my charitable donation for Ryan, but Ryan, Vanessa, and Trevor all made a donation to the uniform drive in my honor. I started this tradition with the kids several years ago and we have shared some wonderfully meaningful stories about our charitable donation choices during the Christmas season. We truly enjoy making it a season of giving.
I was especially moved by that wonderful Christmas gesture after my visit. I can still picture the really little children at the school – ages 3 and 4; they were so truly thrilled to see us. The teacher kept telling the kids to sit in their seats, but as soon as I started taking pictures they swarmed me, and all wanted to see their picture on the digital camera. I have never in my life been so overwhelmed with joy in seeing such smiling faces.
All of these remarkable children come from poverty… a kind of poverty that most of us have never seen or experienced. Yet they are happy. They are productive. They want to learn and they are so eager to change the world.
All I can say is – they changed my world. I hope to return to the school at some time in the future, to see the progress of these students and to visit again with Mama Margaret. I am forever touched by the spirit, energy, smiles and laughter of all the children. I am forever changed by my visit to the Tenderfeet School.