Wrestling the World takes efforts to Kenyan school

By Mike Heine/The Week

(Published Sept. 19, 2006, 1:11 p.m.)

Dirt floors, tin walls and roofs, no glass in the windows, no doors to lock and support beams made out of natural timbers.

These are the buildings that make up the 760-student Hopewell High School in Baruti, Kenya.

Math is taught to the poor Kenyan kids using two calculators and a single large protractor. Math books are from the 1960s. The science lab has three microscopes.

The computers the school had donated aren't in use because they would be stolen.

School starts when the sun rises and ends when the sun sets. There are no electrical lights shining down on these students.

But with the help of a local philanthropic group, things are definitely looking brighter.

Wrestling the World, a group dedicated to helping those who are disadvantaged by natural disadvantaged and less able to help themselves, raised $38,000 for Hopewell High School. Hopewell is a free school for high school-aged children too poor to afford private schooling. Free education in Kenya stops at eighth grade, but not with Hopewell.

With the donated money, Hopewell can build five brick-and-mortar classrooms with cement floors, provide athletic equipment to the students and maintain a 48-acre farm that can grow enough beans and maize to feed every student and teacher.

A collection of $8,000 more can provide a water treatment facility for the school's well, which supplies water to the students and most of the city's residents.

Six members of the Whitewater-based philanthropic group went to Kenya for two weeks to see how the donations were being used.

"We actually didn't do the building," co-creator Phill Klamm said. "The labor there helps support the community. The skilled laborers there made about 400 shillings, or $4 to $5 (U.S.). People doing the grunt work got $3 per day."

A high wage considering Kenyans typically live on $1 per day or less.

Klamm and fellow co-creator Matt Werner laid ceremonial first bricks for one of the buildings. Kenyan laborers are putting the finishing touches on the new buildings.

The school needs 11 more similar classrooms to house all students and replace the corrugated tin buildings where classes are currently held.

Despite the drastic differences in lifestyles and educational opportunities, Kenyan school children are very similar to American students, said Jo Anne Franzene, a teacher at the Milton, Edgerton, Clinton Alternative High School who went to Kenya with Wrestling the World.

"When you talk to the kids and think about the things we talk about, the value systems are pretty much the same," Franzene said. "Kids are kids and high school kids are high school kids.

"They want for a better life. They want to be successful. They have great goals. They're just kids."

Steve Werner, Matt Werner's adoptive father, said Kenyans are taking a proactive approach to better their country.

"I can't say enough about how impressed I was with the effort people are making," he said. "They are walking with a purpose. They weren't just lying around."

Wrestling the World's work looks to provide a boost to those efforts.

The classrooms will be able to better educate the children for their futures. The improved well system will keep students healthier. The school farm will not only feed the school children, but also villagers who can buy the beans and maize. Profits from the excess crops will go back into the farm to make it self-sustaining.

"Thatıs the big thing. Weıll step in and give them a boost so the school fees will not have to pay for the farm," Klamm said. "Itıs run by the students so they can learn from that."

Kenyans know how to stretch a dollar, and a little goes a long way, Klamm said.

"In Kenya, they need the knowledge, encouragement and the money," he said. "There are people there to do the work. They just need the money to support the work.

"If we can help by giving them a classroom, or giving them a computer lab or giving them a connection to the U.S., or giving them food, that all helps. That's what works."

Continued efforts

Wrestling the World will continue to assist the students and volunteer teachers at Hopewell High School.

First and foremost is to complete the well project. Wrestling the World is working with local and Kenyan Rotary Clubs to finish the water treatment plant.

Wrestling the World challenged a Canadian church group to raise matching funds for the 11 classrooms still needed.

Wrestling the World also started a pen-pal program with Hopewell students. Klamm hopes to find other schools that wish to participate in the program.

Additionally, Wrestling the World hopes it can help Kenyan girls attend school all the time. Currently, Hopewell's female students miss about 20 percent of their schooling annually because of their menstrual cycles. Feminine hygiene products are not easily available and the girls stay home. With $2,100 (U.S.), Wrestling the World can provide enough feminine hygiene products for Hopewell girls for one year.

To learn more

For more information on Wrestling the World, visit www.wrestlingtheworld.com. Contacts, project information and photo albums from Wrestling the World's efforts are on the Web site.




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