‘Education is our way out:’ Co-founders of nonprofit for Kenyan education make appearance at Burr and Burton | Local News

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MANCHESTER — Kenya’s Ahmed “Kura” Omar has returned to the United States for the first time in more than three years following COVID restrictions. He joined Kenya Drylands Education Fund (KDEF) co-founder Sarah Hadden from Manchester to educate Burr and Burton and other Manchester-area students on the challenges facing the East African nation. Is, the mission of the organization and how they can help.

Omar hails from a rural area in northern Kenya that depends on herding cattle to survive. The two counties targeted by the KDEF mission, Marsabit and Samburu, have suffered severe droughts in recent years. More than 80 percent of the herds in the already impoverished region were lost and the tribes became increasingly dependent on outside food aid.

In Marsabit and Samburu, less than 9% of the population has a secondary school diploma and only 26% can read or write. Omar sees tackling this problem as key to breaking the cycle of poverty.

“The future is uncertain for our people, but we have to find a way,” Omar said. “Education is our way out of everything.”

Having even a functioning educational facility that promotes learning in Kenya, let alone bringing children into the building, is an elusive challenge for many in the United States. Omar said it’s not uncommon to see teachers sleeping on the floor in their classrooms and waking up. to incoming students. The aim of the organization is not only to create an environment conducive to learning, but also an environment conducive to teaching.

KDEF is currently building entire schools and dormitories, as well as housing for teachers, setting up mentoring and sponsorship programs for students, and providing emergency water and sanitation services to villages. The organization also implemented a school feeding program that served over 4,000 students. KDEF’s contributions and focus on student retention are clearly appreciated, as they have experienced no dropouts among the hundreds of students who have passed through their educational institutions.

Omar and Hadden explained that the challenges they face in providing educational opportunities for children in Kenya are not only economic, but also cultural. Kenya is still a very patriarchal society which does not offer the same opportunities to young women as to men. Many tribes in Kenya still marry women between the ages of 9 and 14, and their role is to perform unskilled labor and care for children.

“I (bring) a direct message to them, that we have to give opportunities to our women, and we have to get rid of cultures that are completely regressive, that set us back,” Omar said. “We cannot practice female genital mutilation or marry our children…If we want to change our world for the better for the future of our people, we have to get rid of some of these things that derail us.

One of the first steps in KDEF’s model to reverse this trend is to convince local leaders of the importance of education. As the region’s success story, Omar has influenced. He used this to his advantage to further KDEF’s goals. He said he was not trying to impose his will, but rather to collaborate.

“We listen to people. We don’t decide for them,” Omar said. “We have something called Community Conversations, where we work to find local solutions to local problems.”

“They trust us,” Hadden added. “We’ve built the trust that if we say we’re going to do something, they know we’re going to do it.”

Omar and Hadden’s partnership began when they met in Kenya in 2010.

“I had never been to a developing country before,” said Hadden, a former educator. “I was really moved by what I saw in the schools and the extreme poverty I saw.”

At the time, Omar ran another non-profit organization known as the Voma Project, which focused on empowering women in business and education in Kenya. As the two developed a friendship, Omar told Hadden about a friend of his who was a teacher and had no supplies for their class. When Hadden decided to help, it quickly became apparent that the needs in Kenya far exceeded school supplies.

Hadden began building the American side of what became known as Project KURA.

“I just thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be great if I could inspire the kids in Manchester and around to help the kids in northern Kenya?’ “, she explained.

As Hadden’s organization grew, it needed a name. She originally went with an acronym based on Omar’s nickname, Kura – Kids Uniting for Rural Africa. When Omar officially came on board in 2018, the name was changed to KDEF.

“I’m not Bill Gates,” Omar joked. “We can’t accept that being my name. »

KDEF is now a household name in the Manchester area. Katie Crabtree, a senior at BBA, has been aware of the nonprofit’s efforts since attending Maple Street School. Omar’s determination and KDEF’s mission inspired her.

“I realized how beautiful Kura’s story is and how it can really affect a small community like this,” said Crabtree, who is heading to St. Lawrence University this fall but plans to move on. ‘to study abroad. She said an outreach program in Kenya was one of the things that convinced her of the school.

“It really made me think about how grateful I should be compared to others,” said Crabtree, who did the legwork to get other students to attend the presentation. “I feel like more students need to not take (for granted) all the opportunities we have every day.”

Omar is humble in his accomplishments and feels responsible for passing on “the gift of education” he has received. When his mother died in his freshman year of high school, he had no way to pay for his education. He snuck out of school for two weeks before he was expelled and forced to go to work with his uncle.

Omar was one of the lucky few in his village to have a wealthy relative, his brother-in-law, Winston. Winston understood how important education was to him and set Omar back on the path he is on now.

“I’m in a better position, but now I also have the position and the platform to help many other kids,” Omar said.

Omar will be in Vermont until April 10. He and Hadden have other stops planned on the school tour after the three-year hiatus, including a meeting with the BBA student council, Manchester Elementary Middle School and Maple Street School. For more information or to contribute or help, visit KDEF.orgComment.


‘Education is our way out:’ Co-founders of nonprofit for Kenyan education make appearance at Burr and Burton | Local News

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