More Access to Education and Clean Water at Oltikampu

TKP’s most remote campus, Oltikampu, sits in an isolated mountain bowl. The 245 children who attend preschool and primary school here have no other early education options, yet the community has flourished in partnership with TKP donors. Because of its rural location and minimal access to roads and resources, Oltikampu is particularly susceptible to the negative effects of droughts, even with rainwater collection tanks on campus. Lack of clean water at this campus quickly escalates to intestinal illnesses and more absenteeism among students—serious problems that put a damper on individual children and the community as a whole.

photo by Jason Bradley

photo by Jason Bradley

In 2015, a group of donors in northern California recognized the severity of the problem and began strategically fundraising among friends and colleagues to drill a well for much needed access to clean water. The donor group came together when TKP board member, Ger Horan, introduced his friends, Scott and Tina Gattey, to the critical water need at Oltikampu. With a shared passion, the Gattey’s and Ger and his wife Sherri, began securing funding for a well by tapping into their networks to raise more than $40,000. Thanks to their efforts, drilling began in May 2016. “I’ve been interested in access to clean water in Africa for many years,” said Scott Gattey. “As a family, we felt led to fund a well in rural Africa, and were looking for an organization that we not only trusted, but where we could see the impact first-hand. With Oltikampu and The Kilgoris Project, we were able to find the ideal combination of a cause we believe in and an organization we know and trust.”

This year, the total investment in Oltikampu has exceeded $115,000. In addition to the well, many donors (both longtime supporters and new friends) have funded capital improvements at the campus, including eight new classrooms, a kitchen and choos (bathrooms). The impact of investment goes beyond the school campus. Healthy, educated children with daily access to clean water have a ripple effect on the community.

photo by Jason Bradley

photo by Jason Bradley

“Clean water will be transformational for this community,” said David Ole Sopia, an Oltikampu parent and school board leader. “At Oltikampu, a true partnership exists between the community, parents and the TKP team. We work together to meet the spiritual, educational and nutritional needs of our students; and our community is privileged to celebrate the new well and continued investment in our children. ”

Meet Anton Wafula, TKP’s Tree Farmer

Anton Wafula’s passion, commitment and skills shine through in all he does. As TKP’s tree farmer, he plays a critical role in laying the groundwork for a program that will help ensure the long-term sustainability of TKP’s Kenyan operations.

The farm, named Kumea Mizizi (Kiswahili for “planting deep roots”), is seven and a half acres and planted with E. grandis (eucalyptus trees). The trees are planted on a rotating basis so that a portion can be harvested each year, with the first harvest planned in 2021. The trees will be sold, creating a sustainable in-country revenue stream to offset the operational expenses of TKP’s schools and health programs.

Speaking with Anton, it’s easy to feel the excitement about the future of the farm. He spends his days monitoring the trees for signs of disease, maintaining the fence around the property, weeding the seedlings, and keeping up with the seedling nursery.  He eagerly shares his devotion to the farm and details about its operations with visitors. Anton also supervises a maize crop that is used as part of the meal program at TKP schools and works with the team in the U.S. and Kenya to ensure the business plan for the farm is on-track.

“I’m proud of my job with TKP and of the farm,” says Anton with a shy grin. “When our farm grows and we sell the trees...the income will help the schools and the children in Kilgoris who need to go to school.”

Anton never attended school or learned to read and write. But, with the secure income from his job with TKP, Anton and his wife, Irene, send their children to school, something they are very proud of. He also takes care of a nephew and sends money to his parents and Irene’s parents every month. Like many families in Kilgoris, they face challenges, including difficulty getting clean water. The family works together to tend their kitchen garden, keep chickens, and care for one another. 


With growing ambitions for the tree farm, including investments from other non-profits, we have big plans for the growing crop of trees. Anton and his family are true partners in TKP’s growth. They give selflessly and are focused on maintaining and developing the farm for the future of our seven schools in rural Kenya.

Early Intervention Leads to Heart Treatment for TKP Student

Solomon Kishoyian is a typical five-year-old boy in rural Kenya. He loves his family, helps with chores, and enjoys running and playing. Kishoyian attends The Kilgoris Project’s Nentekeny Preschool—along with 140 other children in this remote community. 

At Nentekeny, Kishoyian’s life took a dramatic turn earlier this year when he went for his annual well-child check-up with Francis Koskei, TKP’s student health officer.  With the stethoscope connecting Francis to Kishoyian’s chest, Francis heard the familiar sound of a heart murmur. 

“Heart murmurs are not uncommon, but can range in severity,” explained Vera Thompson, RN, director of student health. “Children born with heart abnormalities often have a murmur, or it can be caused by damage to the heart valves by rheumatic fever, which is a result of untreated strep throat.”

“After hearing the murmur that day, I went to Kishoyian’s house to talk with his parents and we agreed that he needed to be seen at a hospital forfurther evaluation,” said Francis.

A Disappointing Hospital Visit

The family’s first trip to Kilgoris District Hospital left them disappointed and searching for answers.  The doctors informed Kishoyian’s family that surgery would need to be performed in Nairobi, costing 1 million shillings ($10,000 USD)—out of the realm of possibility for families in Kilgoris, where the average annual salary is $652.  Disappointed, the family left the hospital knowing Kishoyian was unlikely to receive life-saving surgery that would fix the heart valve and prevent future heart failure. Francis decided this would not be the end of the story for Kishoyian and his family. He suggested a visit to a Tenwek Hospital, a larger, well-respected, Christian hospital in Bomet–about 100 kilometers and a two-hour car ride from Kilgoris.

“When I heard about the cost of the surgery, I decided to accompany the family to Tenwek Hospital for a meeting with doctors and a social worker,” said Francis. “Working together, we were able to arrange for the family to purchase a health insurance card that would lower their costs. Additionally, we learned about a team of cardiac physicians who visit the hospital a couple of times a year and donate their services.” 

Good News At Last

After the successful visit to Tenwek, Kishoyian’s family was able to schedule the surgery to correct his heart murmur for September 2016. Since the visiting physicians donate their services, the family will pay hospital fees only—still about $2,500 USD.  Stanley, Kishoyian’s father, is working with his community and church to mobilize the funds for his son’s surgery and for transportation costs.

“Without Francis on-staff and our integrated wellness checks, Kishoyian’s murmur would have gone undetected for years, and would have likely lead to death at a young age,” explained Vera. “Every year we are able to provide life-saving interventions to a handful of students—all because of our donors and their commitment to the health and education of the whole student.”

TKP is able to provide a rich, school-based wellness program for students. In cases like Kishoyian’s, Francis is able to assist with identifying health problems and connecting families to local health care resources and charitable medical groups. Immunization distribution, nutrition and sanitation programs, and anti-violence and puberty education all round out the educational experience of TKP students.

Kishoyian and his family still face challenges—but with a necessary surgery on the horizon, we look forward to seeing him and his family in TKP schools for years to come.

Meet Mama Catherine

Mama Catherine, a wife, mother and grandmother lives in the Oloowang community, where TKP’s second preschool is located. As a young woman, Mama Catherine, a creative at heart, learned to weave beautiful baskets from yarn and sisal. As the demands of married life and parenthood took over, she gradually let her craft slip away. 

When TKP began to partner with the community in 2000, education and health care resources were at the forefront of the community’s needs. But something else was happening, the time was ripe for a women’s co-op group and a leader was easily found in Mama Catherine. 

In 2010, Upendo Women’s Group (Upendo is Swahili for love) was formed and 25 women began working together on beading, weaving and jewelry projects. They also met weekly to exchange ideas, discuss sales opportunities, and pool funds for supplies. The women shared their struggles and burdens and chipped in financially to help each other through tough times. As TKP was adding schools and enrolling more students across Kilgoris, these mothers were forming a community of their own. 

Partnerships Drive Business Success

In more recent years, TKP has arranged financial literacy training from the Equity Group Foundation for both Upendo and a second women’s group in the Oltikampu community. Catherine began to save her money with the sale of her very first basket. Eventually, she was able to combine her basket making earnings with a small business loan from TKP partner organization, Zawadisha. Combined with business training from U.S. volunteers and Zawadisha, Mama Catherine began planting maize and beans to sell in the local market. With her earnings, she was able to save enough to build a new home to accommodate her growing family. 

“Working with TKP has been amazing—the TKP leaders in Kenya coordinate all the deliveries of our loan products in Kilgoris and also help with trainings,” said Cindy Mayanka, Zawadisha opportunity and empowerment director. “Together we are reaching and empowering more women in Kilgoris.” 

Today, Mama Catherine continues to grow and sell maize and beans, and has even expanded her business to chickens—a significant feat for a woman in Kilgoris. She has also reinvested her earnings into building a small kiosk on the edge of her property where many neighbors pass by each day to purchase sugar, maize, flour, milk and eggs. Mama Catherine is operating a sustainable business that is profitable and allowing her family to change their circumstances over time. 

One of the greatest benefits that Mama Catherine has seen from all that TKP has brought into her life is an improvement in her family’s health. She is proud to share that she is able to purchase more than enough food for her entire family! And what’s more is that she is able to contribute financially to her grandchildren’s education. 

Mama Catherine is just one fascinating woman in this community. Life-changing stories like this exist in every corner and classroom in Kilgoris. 

TKP’s tagline is “Education. Health. Opportunity.” This is opportunity. A family on a new path thanks to their grandmother and mother turned entrepreneur. A new generation of children attending school because of new income. And countless futures transformed by investment in a community.


6 Reasons We Don't Do Poverty Tourism

by Caren McNelly McCormack, President & Co-founder, The Kilgoris Project

June marks the start of the busy travel season for The Kilgoris Project and many other NGOs like us. It’s the time we get to show friends, donors and supporters the work on the ground. It’s our chance to connect our Western donor and volunteer base to our work in Kenya.


Sadly the setup of these trips varies widely among organizations. Some groups travel to work, encourage, teach or live among a local group. Others just skim the surface of a charity’s activities. It’s the worst of these trips that spawned the term “poverty tourism”.

Picture tourists in air-conditioned vans gliding through slums snapping photos but never stopping to breathe the smoky air or venture into a soiled latrine . Or imagine a single mother trotted into a hotel conference room to share her story of being given a new home while not being offered the coffee and pastries her audience enjoys.

It’s these slick travel experiences that miss the mark of what international aid travel can do. Following are a few explanations for why we strive to give our travelers and in-country partners a different kind of interaction.

Poverty Tourism:

  1. Demeans those we serve. How can we say we genuinely care for the people who receive our services if we don’t consider them worthy of a regular conversation? When we don’t give our beneficiaries a genuine voice, we agree with their oppressors that they are somehow less than the rest of us.
  2. Weakens our local staff and boards. There’s a parallel here to the first point. When we believe in the capabilities of our in-country partners, we deem them worthy of face-to-face interaction with anyone. We are proud to introduce them to visitors. We don’t need to craft or manage experiences.
  3. Minimizes discomfort. It’s ok to be uncomfortable, especially if this discomfort is just normal life for most of the people on this planet. We live in a world filled with poverty, injustice, oppression and need. This should make us uncomfortable, because the child in all of us knows that it really isn’t fair. We only build our compassion by acknowledging this and experiencing it for ourselves. There’s something to the old adage about walking a mile in someone else’s shoes.
  4. Masks reality. I’ve heard travelers come away from a scripted experience with one of two thoughts. These people are poor and sad. Or these people are poor, but happy. Both get the first part right; neither hits the truth. The lives of the world’s poor are not different than our own. They are complex. They have high and lows, good days and bad days. They have best friends, embarrassing uncles, family baggage, funny anecdotes and inside jokes. When we don’t really connect with people, we miss the intricacies of real life.
  5. Negates reciprocity. Contrived adventures don’t leave room for the travelers to get more than they give. We grow when we meet different groups of people and experience different culture. Drinking chai in the small hut of a new friend challenges us to rethink who and how we welcome people into our own homes. Sitting for an hour with women beading under a tree makes us question our prioritization of time and friendship.
  6. Squashes hope. This might be the biggest mistake of all. Covering or sanitizing reality squashes hope. It’s when our visitors really connect to the nitty, gritty lives of the people we serve that they get excited about their own role in the process. “You mean I can send someone to school this year,” realizes a 14 year old. “I can pass on my experience to help these women,” realizes a small business owner. When travelers leave with hope, they come home and get the rest of us a little more involved in making the world better.

So what does The Kilgoris Project hope to do by taking travelers to the other side of the globe? Simply this, we want to build relationships. Many people argue that international aid travel is a waste of money. It is a waste of money if travelers merely skim the surface, if nothing genuine results from the process. But if real people build real relationships, then the experience is priceless. That is The Kilgoris Project’s goal for this summer and beyond.