While on a volunteer trip to Kenya in 2009, Brett Weiss saw first hand the daily struggles of the Kenyan people and felt compassion for them. As he puts it, “He fell in love with them.”
Because of his love of the people and of education, Brett was greatly concerned for the children. He was told that most children quit school around Class 4 because their parents cannot pay for high school. Consequently, he created the Weiss Scholarship Foundation. The main goal of his Foundation is to empower children in the Southwestern part of Kenya by offering educational scholarships to high school students.
The village where Weiss is concentrating his efforts is called Dago, South Western Kenya, where the people live in mud huts that are smaller than most of the living rooms in the United States. Often, there will be five to fifteen people living in one of these huts. The main reason they are crowded is because many children have lost their parents due to HIV AIDS. Fortunately, a compassionate Grandma or Aunt will take these children in to their homes. The unfortunate ones end up migrating to larger cities to beg on the streets.
In Dago, Weiss explained that safe water is still a big problem along with a lack of food. The people have little or no medical care, and many people will live and die without ever seeing a doctor. It is considered an achievement if one lives to be older than forty. Some students drop out of school to work in the fields where they may make a dollar a day. “In a village where the average family income is less than $2 per day, that is very helpful,” Weiss explained. Also, it is not easy to acquire proper clothing. Besides a school uniform, the clothes the children and most of the adults wear come from charity. Although life is difficult for the boys in the village, it can be much harder for the girls. Most of the parents, who have little to no education themselves, do not feel that girls should be educated.
Weiss is also concerned about the conditions of the schools and their lack of classroom supplies. In a makeshift classroom at the Dago Kogelo Primary School, the resources are the bare minimum. The classrooms are constructed using a combination of mud, brick and cement. The floor is dirt. The wooden desks are in terrible shape, yet in the lower classes, four to five children will have to share one. It is not much better In the upper classes; however, only two or three children may share a broken desk. School supplies are always in short supply, and students must share their tattered and torn textbooks, often with missing pages, because there are never enough to go around. These will be their only books. There isn’t a library. When these students get to high school, it is apparent that their weakest subject is language – specifically Swahili and English.This puts them at a great disadvantage.
As a result of his fundraising efforts, Weiss and his Foundation have awarded 54 full four-year high school scholarships since 2012. He considers this a major achievement since few people in this village have ever attended high school. Other accomplishments include: five of their students are attending University, while one of their graduates was placed into a vocational school.
The goal is to place more vocational students there. When comparing public schools to private schools in Kenya, Weiss said,“One of the things I say in my talks is that in Kenya there are private and public schools just like in the US. However, the private schools in Kenya tend to be significantly better than the public schools. The private schools tend to have people supporting them who give them far more resources than the government gives to public schools.” He also has found, in his visits from educators across the country, that the larger towns and cities provide a much better education than the schools in tiny remote villages like Dago.
To Weiss, the bottom line is that the village of Dago is poor – even by Kenyan standards. So far, he has visited over 50 primary and secondary private and public schools in Kenya. Before he started the foundation, he realized he needed to learn as much as possible about education in Kenya. “That journey is one I am still on, and it will always be an unfinished journey,” Wess concluded.
Most of the donations to the Weiss Foundation are under $100 USD. And as he notes, you can also join hands with the Foundation to empower the children of Kenya.