For the past 10 years, Pocatello’s First Presbyterian Church has supported two sister churches in Kenya. In the process, members learned of the Mwangaza Primary Boarding Academy located in Subukia in the heart of the Great Rift Valley. Inspired by the school’s story, First Presbyterian launched a program of support.
Mwangaza is a private, nonprofit school founded to provide educational opportunity for students otherwise be unable to attend school. Public schools receive only limited funds from the Kenyan government; students’ families must provide considerable financial support. Many simply cannot afford the expense, especially orphans and single-parent children who are numerous because of Africa’s AIDs epidemic and abandonment. Mwangaza exists to address their needs.
The school is able to carry on a bare-bones program because of a number of factors. Its buildings were those of a large private school that operated in pre-independence days, but which fell on hard times when after independence the Kenyan government bracketed the area with public schools. Elizabeth Stanley, who with her husband owned and taught at the earlier school, makes the facilities available rent-free to Mwangaza Academy. She also has donated some 2 acres of land to raise crops to feed its students and marshals support from the nearby Thithinda Church and elsewhere to provide personnel and help underwrite expenses.
Upon visiting Kenya in 2005, my wife and I — both former teachers — were impressed with the school and its mission. “What can First Presbyterian do to help?” we asked. “Do you need money for textbooks? What about money for school uniforms? What about money for building maintenance?”
To every question the answer was the same. “Yes, we need that, but most of all we need electricity in the classrooms and dormitories.” So on our return, we set First Presbyterian in motion lining up the necessary funds, and within a month, electricity was in place. Amazingly, thanks to donated labor and lax building codes, the cost was a mere $1,500!
Other support has followed. Memorial funds provided by the family of a former teacher have made possible the installation of a pump and irrigation pipes that make it possible to increase and diversify the agricultural plot’s output and to make it more dependable than the previous dryland cropping. Textbooks and playground equipment have been purchased. And a new pre-kindergarten class has been added.
This past year saw the school reach a fresh milestone. One of its graduates — Denis Mwangi — passed the intensive testing that certified his readiness and was admitted to university. Members of the local Thithinda Church, friends and Pocatello’s First Presbyterian joined in a “harambee,” a fundraiser, to help underwrite the expense of his attending.
It has been a wonderful, eye-opening experience. The Pocatello church’s money has gone a long way both because things are inexpensive in Kenya and because we have avoided middlemen. There have been no administrative overhead charges; all our contributions have gone directly to the school.
Still, plenty of needs remain. My wife Mary and I often toy with the idea of returning for another visit. But Kenya is half a world away; getting there is expensive. Our funds, we suspect, could be better spent by sending it directly to the Mwangaza Academy where money for school uniforms, more textbooks and facility upgrades are still badly needed. Be that as it may, First Presbyterian’s dedication to the project, like ours personally, remains as strong as ever.
Tom Cox is a retired professor of history who lives in McCammon. He is a former chairman of the outreach committee of Pocatello’s First Presbyterian Church.