Mary Ngerechi stands with beakers and test tubes in a science classroom at WE’s Kisaruni Group of Schools in the Maasai Mara, Kenya.
A quiet revolution in female education and opportunity means that girls who once trudged for hours across Kenya’s Maasai Mara to fetch water, now choose a different path—walking each morning into the classrooms of WE College.
This opportunity is provided by WE Charity, which is winning awards and supporters for its sustainable, holistic development work.
When 22-year-old Valentine Chepkorir dragged her heavy luggage through the front doors of WE College a year ago, she was already her family’s first high school graduate.
The fifth of eight siblings, Chepkorir attended primary and secondary schools built by WE Charity, but there were no post-secondary institutions in the Maasai Mara region. If there were, tuition was beyond reach. “When I got the call informing me that I had a scholarship, I cried,” she says.
WE Charity and its donors not only built the college but also raised money for scholarships. Chepkorir entered WE College’s School Tourism. The School of Nursing also opened in 2017, followed by schools of clinical medicine and entrepreneurial agriculture.
Gertrude Manani, college principal, says, “these young women will gain employment and improve the standard of living for themselves and their families.”
“The college was the next logical step for us to support the learners in South Narok, where WE Charity works,” says Scott Baker, executive director of WE Charity.
From the early offerings of primary education 20 years ago, the organization created its five-pillar model to provide education, water, health, food and opportunity.
WE Charity’s Baraka Hospital Maternity Wing was voted best in its county in 2015 by the Narok County District Quality Assurance Team. Kisaruni All Girls High School consistently ranks in the top five per cent of all the high schools in Narok County.
Beyond donor support, WE Charity’s work is powered by an innovative partnership with ME to WE, a social enterprise offering socially conscious retail, hand-crafted Artisans accessories and immersive volunteer trips, creating employment and opportunities for marginalized people.
Naitalala Nabala creates beautiful strings of bright colours known internationally as Rafikis. She was 12 when she first made a beaded necklace, taught by her mother, who learned the craft from her mother.
WE recently opened a Women’s Empowerment Centre in the area, where women learn financial literacy and entrepreneurship. They come together to bead and find an international market for their work. More than 1,400 women earn a living through beading.
Nabala has paid for her children’s education. “Beading is part of our tradition, but I want more for them. They must go to school.”
Russ McLeod, chief operations officer of ME to WE, says the social enterprise’s immersive travel experiences enable youth to volunteer in communities where WE Charity has a long history of sustainable development and also give adult travellers an opportunity to stay in comfortable facilities, while immersing themselves in local culture.
Each entity—WE Charity and ME to WE—operates separately, with its own staff, budgets, board of directors and financial controls. McLeod says since 2009, ME to WE has donated over $16 million in cash and cost-offsetting in-kind donations to WE Charity.
The other half of the earned income is used to build infrastructure for the social enterprise, such as the Bogani Luxury Cottages and Tented Camps in the Maasai Mara and Toriana Beach House, on Kenya’s coast, where adult travellers stay.
The social enterprise model helps to create revenue for the work of WE Charity, while, at the same time, creating a separate sustainable earned revenue stream for the charitable projects, through education, agriculture and financial literacy.
The quiet revolution in Kenya’s Maasai Mara continues. One school house, one empowered woman, one Rafiki bracelet sold and one traveler at a time.