Senior Communication Studies major Erin Brown encourages you to imagine what your life would be like without any further education past the age of nine.

Devastatingly, for many children around the world, the obstacles faced in getting an education are nearly insurmountable. This is true in the Southwestern region of Kenya, particularly for girls.

In the rural areas surrounding the large city of Narok Town in Southwestern Kenya, the people are mainly Maasai. They are pastoralists who engage sporadically in small-scale farming. Illiteracy rates are extremely high in this area, and poverty prevents families from educating their children. For many families, the decision is easier to keep their daughters home to help with chores, and then give them away at a young age for bride-wealth, rather than pay for them to become educated.

Born into a Maasai family of twelve children, Alice Sayo was almost certainly destined for such a fate. After her father passed away, Alice’s mother and older brother worked hard to allow Alice to go to school. As a result of their efforts, she graduated from high school in Kenya, university in England, and in 2011, she was chosen as a participant in the International Leaders in Education program where she attended education classes at James Madison University. This strengthened Alice’s drive to achieve her dream of giving other Maasai girls like herself the opportunity to an education.

While at JMU, Alice shared her vision with those around her, including JMU professor Dr. Michelle Cude. After much hard work by Alice, Dr. Cude, and other faculty, students, and community members, Alice’s dream of providing education to girls in the Narok area of Kenya was realized: in 2013, Nasaruni Academy for Maasai Girls was born.

Nasaruni Academy for Maasai Girls is a boarding school 9km west of Narok Town for girls grades K-4th. The school currently teaches 60 girls English, Swahili, math, social studies, geography and sciences in the curriculum required by the Kenyan government. As well as serving as director of Nasaruni Academy, Alice is also a public high school principal in the area.

JMU student Erin Brown became involved with Nasaruni Academy when she began working for Horizons Learning Foundation, an organization created to enhance community education and support all students, and found the “perfect partnership… and a platform to… [positively] impact the global community” with the Nasaruni Academy.

According to Erin, Horizons Learning Foundation uses its resources to provide support to Nasaruni Academy in the following areas:

  • Fundraising and outreach efforts (web, social media, local advertising), where 100% of donations directly benefit the girls at Nasaruni Academy
  • Facilitating financial aspects of the vision, including the 501(c)3 designation
  • Administrative support

Erin runs Nasaruni Academy’s Facebook account with another JMU student, Hunter Lewis. Together, they create social media graphics to inform followers about updates with Nasaruni Academy, and fundraising events.

While Nasaruni Academy currently reaches 60 girls and their families; in the new school year, which begins in January, Erin hopes the number of girls will triple. Thus, construction needs to be finished on two new classrooms for the growth expected. Along with the need for expansion, according to Erin, there is still a lot to be done to the school building to make it safer for students. She explained, “There is no plumbing, no permanent classrooms, no usable kitchen, unreliable fencing to protect from wild animals, and an insecure energy source.”

Erin wants others who feel similarly to her about the importance of education to know about Nasaruni Academy. She stated, “Knowledge… empowers me. This cause is so important to me because of how blessed I was in my own life with my education and opportunities to learn.” She encourages JMU students to help out by staying updated with Nasaruni Academy’s Facebook page, participating in events put on in Harrisonburg by Nasaruni Academy, and buying T-shirts from the Future Social Studies Educators.

Want to help more? Those interested in sponsoring a student by paying for fees and boarding costs may get more information here. Contributions to the infrastructure of the school are also welcome.

I don’t know about the rest of you Dukes, but it sure makes me feel pretty good to see all the ways JMU’s vision of the engaged university is clearly expressed around the globe!

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