Our Hope and Dream

By Gideon Kilonzo

While visiting rural Kalawa, Kenya, one is struck by the stark contrast between the beauty and allure of Africa and the bleak living conditions of the people. Mud-thatched homes, crude outhouses, homes without electricity, compromised water sources... all speak to the glaring poverty of people with limited resources, limited employment, limited healthcare, and limited education.

At the Kalawa Market, young people are everywhere: standing about, talking, hoping, waiting with a longing in their eyes for something to do. They wait to see who gets off a public transport bus that has just arrived from the capital city, Nairobi. Perhaps someone they know will alight; someone who has news, someone who may be able to buy them a cup of tea, or someone who might give them the hope of a lead for employment. Many have all but given up looking for work and have resigned themselves to being dependent upon the kindness of their relatives and other people for support.

The squalor of the marketplace's unpaved streets littered with sugar cane fibers, banana leaves, peels and rinds from fruits, corn cobs and husks, plastic bags, and paper waste confronts one's senses. Since first coming to the US to go to school in the early 1970s, this scene assaults me every time I return home to Kalawa to visit. Two observations that strike me each time I return to Kenya are: how eager young people are to obtain an education and the lack of opportunities. Young people want to talk with me and ask questions about education in the US; if a sponsor can be found to pay for their education.

At such times, I have wondered if opportunities for education and employment could be created right there in Kalawa for the many rather than just a few. The idea of a library came to mind... what if there was a library full of books? ... all types of information available that the people of Kalawa could access and glean new awareness to improve their lives. As a career educator since the mid-1970s, I believe  that education plays a vital part in any solution toward improving the lives of a rural village. I think if people have the opportunity for an education, they can learn how to find or create resources regardless of where they live.

On September 30, 2011, the Kalawa Library and School Project was registered as a non-profit organization in South Dakota. The idea was to raise funds to build a library and later a K-8 elementary school. In October 2011, a library was started. A farm storage building was refurbished, making it into a library. With a few books donated, children spent a couple of days learning about the library and reading books. Children were excited to take a book that they liked home for a few days to read at leisure. The library officially opened on December 16, 2011.

Upon the launching of the Kalawa Library, the community response sparked  a collective voice for the need of a good primary school. Hence, the beginning of St Joseph's Academy in January of 2012.