On a family volunteering holiday to Kenya in October 2016, we didn’t expect to find the meaning of life written on a dilapidated classroom wall. But that’s exactly what we found….and a whole lot more.
Dotted about a school in a dry, remote area of southern Kenya, were wise words and profound self-styled mission statements that would not have been out of place on the walls of an executive offsite.
In a community where over 65% of the population live in poverty some of the slogans may have seemed over-ambitious or out of place. But, of course, they are not. These lively, smiley juniors champion education at every opportunity, with many aspiring to be lawyers, doctors, politicians and teachers when they grow up. They see education as their ticket out of poverty.
We spent two days in the searing heat of Africa’s dry season at Sasenyi School making bricks and building wooden desks. Before we left, the proud headmaster gave us a tour. We saw how the work of Camps International, our hosts, had provided new classrooms, installed guttering, created water storage facilities and funded a feeding programme (the promise of lunch had doubled attendance over the past five years). As the young school children queued at the tank to fill their bottles from the dwindling water supply for their long walk home, we were touched and inspired by their sense of hope.
Changing Lives Abroad and At Home
My husband, Tim (co-founder and Black Isle Group’s CEO ), said:
”What started as a family holiday became so much more. I didn’t expect to be drawing parallels between a school in a marginalised area of Kenya with the boardrooms I sit in with my clients.
We didn’t want to leave the projects and the amazing people we had met without the comfort of knowing we could continue to support them somehow. We also needed to share our experiences and give others the opportunity to have their eyes opened with a sense of doing something truly amazing – for the children in the school, the local community and also for themselves.
This is not just about “helping starving children in Africa” – this is about providing practical support to enable our colleagues and contacts in other parts of the developed world to visit and Kenya and enjoy contributing personally to grass roots people development. Every individual who travels will have a multitude of personal “take-aways” from their experience. The trips really are life-changing.”
Black Isle Group (BIG) Foundation
Impressed by Camps International’s impact at Sasenyi School, we were keen for the Foundation to help achieve similar results at Itinyi Primary School, a stone’s throw from our accommodation. Eighteen months on and thanks to some sterling fundraising efforts by the Black Isle team, their families and friends, we have raised enough money to embark on the Foundation’s first objective: to start building a new nursery at Itinyi which will allow 40 children to benefit from a clean and safe environment in which to learn.
The BIG Foundation is about more than raising much needed funds, it’s also about getting hands-on. We are inviting clients, suppliers and contacts to join us on voluntary trips to Kenya every year to continue supporting the broader Camps International community projects. Some of these include:
- Education – making desks for classrooms, bricks for new school buildings and building new classrooms for two local primary schools.
- Community – worming the locally-owned goats, helping the ladies’ community group harvest their fruit and veg, make jewellery and elephant dung paper for them to sell in their shop
- Environment – build elephant deterrent fences to stop elephants trampling farmers’ crops and human/wildlife conflict, wildlife censuses, reforestation
We currently aim to organise annual family and corporate volunteering trips to Kenya. Whether wishing to outsource CSR, promote altruism and philanthropy amongst employees or simply to give individuals a rewarding experience, all are welcome to join.
We drove away with warm hearts (and silently praying that it would rain very soon). The seeds had been planted for the BIG Foundation.