B.C. charity has helped 500 Kenyan students graduate high school since 2004

Markson Echesa enrolled in a teaching program after receiving funding from the Kenya Education Endowment Fund's (KEEF) Alinda Ware Bursary Fund. || Photo submitted by Shelagh Armour-Godbolt.
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For students in Kenya the cost of attending high school can be prohibitively expensive. The price of tuition and formal uniforms, including leather shoes, can add up to $600 CAD per year.

A small group of British Columbians, who had been volunteering in various roles in Kenya, realized they could help local students continue their education, according to Shelagh Armour-Godbolt, a volunteer for the Kenya Education Endowment Fund (KEEF).

“[KEEF] started out, as so many of these groups do, as they came home from their volunteer stint and they hit up their friends and it grew,” said Armour-Godbolt. KEEF was established as a society in B.C. in 2004 and was given charitable status two years later.

Sometimes a supporter will fund a student for a year at $600, but often people will pitch in together with friends and family, according to Armour-Godbolt.

“High school students who are graduating in Kenya, unlike kids here, have very little opportunity to get a summer job or a part-time job through the school year to save money to go to post-secondary,” she said. 

Kenyan students who are accepted into a post-secondary program can apply for government loans, but not until they are in their second semester. The Alinda Ware Bursary Fund helps bridge that gap.

The fund was created by an anonymous donor who admired the work of one of KEEF’s founding members, Alinda Ware. Ware used to spend six months of the year volunteering with KEEF in Kenya prior to the COVID-19 pandemic and hopes to return.

Dick Glassford and his wife, Janice Trenholme, live in Parksville and are volunteer board members with KEEF. They had an opportunity to meet one of the students they funded.

“There’s not a dry eye in the house when you do finally meet the kids,” Glassford said. He and Trenholme went to Kenya in 2011 and met Julius, who went on to study mathematics and later engineering. 

“Once you’ve experienced something like Janice and I experienced, it really is wonderful and it gives you a better perspective on what is important,” he said.

Kenyan students who are accepted into a post-secondary school (after completing a challenging national exam) will indicate which programs they are interested in, but ultimately they are called by the government to study in a certain field, according to Armour-Godbolt.

One of a number of Alinda Ware Bursary recipients this was Markson Echesa, who was called to enter a teaching program after completing his national exam. His family sold their cow for $150 CAD to put towards his first semester fees of $325. The bursary will cover the rest of his tuition.

“It’s such a small amount of money, I mean by Canadian standards, and yet it will make up what he and his parents can’t fund and it will get him through his first semester,” Armour-Godbolt said.

With his first semester funding secured, Echesa will be able to apply to the Kenyan government for post-secondary school loans.

KEEF estimates it has helped about 500 students graduate since 2004.

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