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City pair helping children who love going to school

Published on

Pam Wright

It’s the unabashed gratitude of young students that is drawing Shirley Willis back.

The Sarnia resident, a long-time supporter of Free the Children, is raising money to upgrade a school in an African village.

She travelled to Kenya with her daughter Emma on a work trip last year to help build a school, and the experience was so life-changing she is raising $10,000 to construct another school.

“It is the outlook of the people,” Willis said. “It’s very positive. Education is so important to the people and the children are excited to go to school.”

The Maasai Mara area of Kenya is a vast, flat plain. The Massai warriors who inhabit it are nomadic hunters who pasture their cattle alongside zebras, giraffes, gazelles, warthogs and other big-game safari animals.

Willis said most locals live in mud and cow-dung huts without electricity, although many have cell phones.

There are no cars, only paths where people ride motorcycles.

Women do most of the heavy lifting, Willis noted, including cooking, childcare and carrying water.

Which may explain why girls are especially eager to attend school. Education gives them options, Willis said.

An all-girls high school is located in the village that’s been adopted by Free The Children. The students work together to care for the facility and keep it shipshape, she said.

Unlike many Canadian students, Kenyan youngsters are so thirsty for knowledge they beg to come early to clean the school and extend their classroom hours. Some walk more than two hours hours each way, she said.

Each grade of the learning complex has a separate building, not unlike a portable classroom here. Each costs $10,000 to build.

Willis has been working away on her sewing machine, crafting clothing and other items for sale. She has raised $7,400 toward the goal — mostly by word of mouth — and is hosting a fundraiser at her home at 750 Cathcart Blvd on Saturday, June 18.

Admission to the garden tour and sale is $2 and refreshments are available. The event runs 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Willis said the best memory of her Kenyan trip is the pride mothers take in their children’s accomplishments. Education can help women become entrepreneurs, which strengthens entire communities, she said.

Once the $10,000 is raised Willis intends to return to Africa to build the school, along with Lauren Morrison, a family friend and student at Lakeroad School.

“They are a very proud people. I missed them when I got home,” she said.

More information on the project can be viewed at the link:


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