Education: An International Human Right - Speaks With the Kilgoris Project

In honor of Universal Human Rights Month, recently spoke with Caren McCormack, cofounder of The Kilgoris Project. Read on to learn what she has to say about educating children in some of the poorest parts of the world.

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By Megan Driscoll

Kilgoris Project Students in Ntimigom How did The Kilgoris Project get started?

Caren McCormack: From a meeting at a safari camp in 1999, where Californians Jon and Caren McCormack developed a friendship with Kilgoris villager Wilfred Lemiso. After getting to know more about his family, church and village we were moved to offer help.

The community desired a building to use as a preschool during the week and a church on the weekends. Once we saw how little it cost, in U.S. terms, we donated the funds. Thus The Kilgoris Project and Enkijabe Empiris Preschool were born. The Project didn't begin with schools. How did your organization come to focus on education?

CM: After completing the first building, we realized the needs of students and the whole education of students encompassed far more than just having a physical place to go to school.

The classroom needed materials. Good teachers needed competitive salaries. Kids needed food, clean water and some basic medical care to be healthy enough to learn. So we began to incorporate these into the schools.

As we built our subsequent schools, we better developed other ways to partner with the local community. Now we focus on education in a holistic sense. The Kilgoris Project now includes three preschools. Can you tell about the services these schools offer to children in the community?

CM: Actually, it's five schools now - four preschools and a primary school. We added the very rural Olitkampu Preschool in October 2010.

In addition to an excellent education, our schools offer:

  • Daily lunch
  • Clean water
  • Deworming medications
  • Diarrhea treatment
  • Basic first aid

Kilgoris Project Students in Oloowang Once they're open, what role does The Kilgoris Project play in schools?

CM: We remain a partner with the school and community. For example, The Kilgoris Project pays most teacher salaries. (The Kenyan government provides two teachers at the primary level.)

We also meet twice a year with each school's parent-teacher committee to assess the school's needs. Then we partner with them to meet those needs. This may include capital projects like new buildings, classroom supplies, site maintenance and special student needs.

For example, Oloowang Preschool needed to upgrade its latrines - the old facilities were simply no longer adequate. Parents and community members dug the latrine holes and gathered stones for the latrine's foundation. The Kilgoris Project will pay the capital costs to construct the new latrines, which are expected to be finished in November 2010.

We're also working on initiatives to help the community and parents support the schools. Our five-acre tea farm and five-acre maize farm will help fund school maintenance. And through our Upendo Women's Co-op, we are helping 35 mothers of students with economic development opportunities. In turn, the Upendo women donate 10% of their profits to the schools. Your website notes that the low tuition and scholarships offered by the preschools have enabled many children to attend school for the first time. Can you tell us what access to education is like in the area where The Project built its schools? How does it compare to other parts of the developing world?

CM: More than 1 million school-aged Kenyans do not attend school, out of a total population similar in size to California. Rural children often have even fewer educational options than city kids.

Kilgoris is no exception. In the village, simple poverty keeps many children out of school. Most schools, public and private, require kids to pay a fee, wear a uniform, wear shoes and buy all their supplies. If parents cannot meet all the requirements, children can't attend school.

In outlying areas, distance usually trumps poverty as the biggest barrier. Schools are simply too far away or the path to school is too unsafe. This is especially true for the youngest children.

Two other barriers we see are economic instability and lack of value for education. Families who live hand to mouth often cannot or do not save money. They may pay a child's school fees one month, then keep the child home because they can't pay fees the next month. Also, uneducated parents may not see the value in consistent education for their children.

From what we see, these problems are similar across Africa and the developing world.

The Kilgoris Project hopes to overcome these obstacles by building local schools and operating with more flexibility. Children do not have to wear a uniform or shoes to attend school. Parents pay fees on a sliding scale. And The Project buys many school supplies. We also work with parents to budget for school fees and see the value in educating their children. What advice would you give to someone who's interested in helping increase access to education for children around the world?

CM: Take heart. It doesn't take a huge amount to make a difference. Many terrific organizations are educating the world's children. Even your modest donations of time or money can help. Finally, I'd like to give you the opportunity to tell our readers how they can get involved with The Kilgoris Project.

CM: Visit our website at, follow us on Facebook or contact us at

Opportunities to help include: Sponsoring a teacher. Buying lunch for a school for a week. Contributing to the costs of a new school building. Helping children donate to other children through small projects, like lemonade stands and collecting loose change.

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