Camp Simba enriches education for Kenyan students

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Marie Brown
  • 435th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs

American cultural anthropologist Margaret Mead once said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

Members of Camp Simba Manda Bay have put Mead’s words into practice and changed the lives of about 120 students in the village of Magogoni in Lamu, Kenya.

After visiting the village in 2017, members of CSMB noticed that the community did not have a school. Young children were being taught on a rented space constructed from mud, and older children had to walk three miles, one way, to get to a government provided school.

“The route was dangerous,” said Paul Kinyanjui, Camp Simba Charity coordinator and volunteer. “There were wild animals and terror gangs.”

After a call to action, service members and contractors at CSMB chipped in and completed the construction of the first four classrooms in September 2018. Then, due to an increase in the number of people in the village and the success of the first project, Camp Simba Charity decided to embark on a second project consisting of a much needed improved and permanent structure and four more classrooms.

Due to insufficient funds, the development was stopped. In October 2020, however, a group of over 15 U.S. Air Force and U.S. Marine Corps Forces, Special Operations Command personnel and 35 Kenyan volunteers started working to fund and restart the local school expansion for the village of Magogoni.

“COVID-19 strangled and limited our relationship and regular contact with the community,” said Capt. Francisco Gonzalez-Vargas, 475th Expeditionary Air Base Squadron installation chaplain. “It wasn’t until the end of October 2020 that we reestablished our laces with the community and the mayor.”

The group of volunteers began to spread the call for help. With the use of secured media and the military community, they were able to get around $3K in donations.

“These donations helped us hire labor and procure construction material to finish up the elementary school,” Gonzalez-Vargas said.

“With the four additional classrooms, the school will have a capacity to accommodate approximately 120 students up to eighth grade,” Kinyanjui said. “The previous existing classrooms held approximately 35 students.”

After three years, two separate deployment rotations and donations from over 30 individuals, class is now back in session for students from Magogoni, Kauthara, Bora Imani and Sina Mbio villages.

“In December 2020 we finally received the certificate of registration from the Kenya Department of Education for the now official Magogoni Primary School,” Gonzalez-Vargas said. “As of Monday, Jan. 11, 2021, Magogoni has a fully operational primary school.”

Projects like this don’t come with any monetary value for the volunteers who work on them; they come with a much bigger reward.

“It is life changing being a part of, and seeing firsthand, the impact and happiness small gestures and charity can produce into the world,” Gonzalez-Vargas said.

“Being able to make an impact in the community, interacting with the locals, putting a smile on the children’s faces, and giving marginalized communities a fighting chance in life through improved educational standards is the best reward I could have hoped for,” Kinjanjui said.

With the school 90% finished, there are other upcoming projects planned to make the school and the community better.

“We are planning several other projects including fencing the school compound,” Kinyanjui said. “Future projects also include drilling a borehole, donating solar kits and installing a health center.”

“We are in the process of delivering solar powered charging and lighting stations to around 40 households,” Gonzalez-Vargas said. “This will allow the kids to study at night and families to stay connected.”

Strengthening and leveraging partnerships is key for Airmen of the 435th Air Expeditionary Wing. Members of CSMB not only built a school for the local community but also built a lasting relationship while deterring potential adversaries.

“These projects not only help the local community, they also boost a positive image towards the U.S. military and U.S. overall,” Kinyanjui said.

Camp Simba Charity and all volunteers who support these projects have one request: help is needed and appreciated.

“Just a call to action for well-wishers to continue donating for the cause,” Kinyanjui said. “We have a lot more that we can do, but we cannot do it without help.”