A Smithers family is hoping a benefit concert this weekend at Della Herman Theatre will build a dormitory for a girls school in Kenya.
Karen and Jack Love, and their children Jordyn and Simon, got involved with the Kenyan Samburu Girls Foundation through Karen’s role as ambassador for the charity Kenyan Child Guardian Foundation (KCGF) and her work with a specials needs school in Migwani, Kenya.
The Samburu Girls Foundation rescues girls from child marriage, abuse and female genital mutilation, practices that are illegal in Kenya, but nevertheless widespread, Karen said.
“I think it’s important to note it’s not a Western charity coming in and changing cultural practices,” Karen said. “It is a woman who’s name is Dr. Josephine Kulea, who is a Samburu woman who has this foundation; she just elicits well-wishers from across the world and she has some really big ones.”
These include Arizona University and IBM.
The concert this Saturday features violinists Simone Hug and Lydia Wunderlich; Sharon Carrington’s acapella group Mint Julep; and the Monica Kapelar dance troupe. Tickets are $20. Proceeds will go to the Samburu Girls Foundation and Karen is hoping businesses will step up to augment the fundraising effort.
“We’re asking for corporate donations to match our personal donations for the Samburu Girls Foundation benefit concert,” she said.
Special needs trip
The Loves recently spent two months in Kenya where Karen was involved in teacher training at the Migwani Special Needs School, and where they visited the Samburu girls school.
“It was really amazing,” she said. “The school system is very, very different, a lot of rote learning and standardized tests. That’s why my teaching there is kind of expanding their teaching practice to be more like Western practices where we’re trying to teach kids to be more critical thinkers.”
Jack worked on building a new classroom at the Migwani Special Needs School — for which the family raised $5,500 — while Jordyn and Simon attended school in the mornings. In the afternoons, the Love kids worked with the special needs children at the school while Karen worked with the teachers and Jack continued the build.
“I just feel it’s really important to expose my kids who live in this world [where] we have everything, to that culture where they don’t have nearly as much, especially with the special needs [kids]. I think that those kids have really tragic lives sometimes and we can bring a lot of joy to them.”
She said attitudes toward people with special needs are slowly changing in the African country.
“The special needs kids have started in a space where they weren’t really even recognized as human beings, hidden away, considered a curse from God, and now they’re allowed to go on field trips,” she said, adding they still face stigma.
On a field trip this year, some of the kids weren’t allowed to go into a tea factory because of their conditions.
Although Jordyn and Simon attended classes in Kenya, they didn’t get Canadian school credits for their school work there, which meant they had to do a bit of catch-up when they got back. Karen said their Smithers teachers went out of their way to help.
“Their schools were fantastic,” she said. [Jordyn]’s teachers for the first semester just gave her projects that she could do while she was there and hand those projects in, and then, her science teacher actually just devoted her lunch hours for Jordyn to be able to catch up.”
Despite the extra work, Karen believes the experience was invaluable and the kids loved it.
“My son came home and had a birthday party,” she said. “He had a 50/50 party because he wanted to give more money back to the Samburu Girls Foundation, so he got money and donated a bunch back to them.”
Dream come true
Karen got involved with KCGF through the organization’s Smithers co-founder Len Vanderstar.
“Len was booking trips for Africa and treks up Mount Kilimanjaro and the proceeds would go to the special school there, so that was four years ago and I just heard about it and said, I’m going,” she explained. “I didn’t do the mountain climb, I just went and did some teacher training there.”
It was a dream come true.
“I’m a child of the ‘80s,” she said. “I grew up watching World Vision, those kinds of things, and it’s been my dream all my life.”
It’s not everyone who can just get away for two months, however. Karen gives full credit to her employer.
“The school district gave me an amazing opportunity,” she said. “They gave me a personal leave this year with permission to substitute, which was a special consideration.”
Jack, who works out in camp, saved up seven weeks of vacation.
KCGF is not the only African connection for Smithers. The Bulkley Valley Christian School is twinned with a school in Nanfayie, Sierra Leone—a school that was built by a Smithers church.
“I think probably Smithers is just a very generous town,” she said. “And I think when people hear about other people [helping] then they’re inspired to go and help out where they can.”
Aside from working from B.C. to help out in Kenya, Karen is planning on going back.
“It’s very personally fulfilling for me and my family to go, and we have a connection with those people in Kenya,” she said.