When Linda Schukman was invited to a dinner by her sister-in-law and her husband 10 years ago and met Father Anthony, a priest from western Kenya, her life was changed.

By RIMSIE MCCONIGA
rmcconiga@leavenworthtimes.com


When Linda Schukman was invited to a dinner by her sister-in-law and her husband 10 years ago and met Father Anthony, a priest from western Kenya, her life was changed.


He spoke to her about a small school for girls that he had started in his home village of Kapkemich.
“He explained that most girls have little opportunity for a formal secondary education, much less a post-secondary education, because of the cultural expectation for girls to marry around the age of 13,” says Linda. “As he described their situation, he wished for books, he wished for a library, he wished he could provide them many things we consider to be basic to the education we provide for our children in the U.S.” 


It broke her heart to hear first-hand of the poverty and lack of educational opportunities in this little village, says Linda. “We saw this as a chance to personally make a difference in the lives of at least a few girls. Little did we know what an impact we would have. Those of us at dinner that evening realized we could certainly help with fulfilling those wishes by forming our own non-profit organization Friends of St. Anne's Girls' School (FOSA). We chose to go this route because many churches and other larger established non-profits will ‘take their cut’ of donations for administrative costs and even for salaries. From the beginning, we pledged as a board to personally absorb all administrative costs so that 100% of all dollars donated to FOSA go directly to the girls and/or facilities that directly benefit the girls.”
Now, to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the founding of FOSA the group will host a fundraiser on May 2.


Initially the FOSA members relied almost solely on funds raised at this annual gala and $10,000 to $15,000 was raised each year, but the non-profit soon became recipients of larger amounts of money in the form of bequeathments and grants from different sources. “Our 2018 income included $72,000 in fundraising efforts (gala, Christmas appeal, direct donations for scholarships) and $60,000 in grants,” says Linda.


The group even opened a restaurant called Anna’s Oven in Kansas City to raise money for FOSA. “While Anna's Oven was a wonderful way to get the word out about our cause, as a business we were never able to draw a profit to send to Kenya,” says Linda. “It did, however, provide an opportunity to broaden our donor base simply by raising awareness of our cause. The restaurant also provided support for our fundraisers in the past - gift cards as well as food that was served at the galas. Anna's is now closed, and we sure miss the comfort food and the chances to tell stories of our family as well as our fundraising efforts.” 
Linda originally thought the group's pinnacle of success was the initial $20,000 the group raised to build a library, (which now has solar panels which provide a consistent power source rather than the unreliable hydro power), and the shipping container they sent that was filled with books and other educational supplies. But after they celebrated each achievement other needs were revealed and their efforts just continued to grow.


They have now built a science lab, and a dorm that is on-site. Although the new dorm is fairly rudimentary at this point, Linda says it's important that it is on-site and the head teacher no longer has to walk the girls to the off-site facility every day. Their safety is less of a concern now. 


Before FOSA, girls had to walk several miles to attend a day school. Because of the distance and the cost, most did not. There was some government subsidy of tuition for girls who scored well on government tests, but that program affected very few in Kapkemich.
“A donation of even $20 will certainly make a difference,” says Linda. The improvements for the girls as well as for the entire community of Kapkemich are profound. Scholarship efforts are now a large part of our focus, since a commitment to a Form 1 student (freshman) logically becomes a 4-year commitment, and possibly an additional four years, if the young woman wishes to pursue a post-secondary education. As of 2018, 42 young people have completed 1-year, 2-year or 4-year technical, college or university education. We are supporting 60 of the nearly 200 girls currently enrolled at St. Anne's Girls' School (high school) and 37 post-secondary students who are enrolled in a variety of technical schools, colleges or universities."


Originally these girls were expected, upon reaching a certain age (usually 13-15), to marry, providing their families with a small dowry paid by the husband's family. Only those with exceptional academic talent, or those from wealthy families were able to continue their education past elementary school. "The vast majority of families in Kapkemich are considered to be "peasant farmers," says Linda. "That means that beyond farming and gardening for their own subsistence, their income is either quite low or non-existent. Expanding St. Anne's Girls' School to accommodate almost 200 students has allowed local access to education for students of lower-income families.”
"It's so rewarding to know you're really making a difference for a young woman," says Ginger Riddle, a FOSA board member. "Just $400 (in U.S. dollars) pays for a whole year of schooling. After families pay what they can, each girl's needs amount to somewhere between $190 and $400 (with only a handful of girls who have no family contribution). Educating girls everywhere is so important and it isn't a priority of Kenya's government. It's encouraging that parents are giving what they can, and we're excited to help with the part that they can't afford. We appreciate everyone's support."


As an educator, it is very rewarding for Linda to know that the girls now have access to an education they could have only dreamed about before. "It is immensely gratifying to see students benefit in so many ways from a safe and secure place to study, grow, and become valuable citizens in their community," says Linda. "My mother was an educator her entire professional life, and in the summers and intercessions, led children's literature study tours all over the world. Upon her death, a St. Anne's scholarship was established in her name, and the first recipient of that scholarship has now graduated, attained the necessary certifications, and is teaching at St. Anne's."
People in the area now also have access to a medical clinic that is affiliated with FOSA. The money for the clinic building was donated by Virginia Wright and the clinic has been named in her honor.


"The clinic is in another village, but it's a walk of several kilometers to get there," says Linda. "Virginia Wright has provided local health care that community members may not have sought previously because of the distance to the other clinic, and the time it would take to get there and get back. Immunization and wellness checks are perfect examples. Also, it's pretty easy now, to get to the clinic to give birth, whereas before women would just stay home. As you know, there can be complications with home births and death of the infant and/or the mother would be imminent without immediate medical attention. With a nurse on duty at the Virginia Wright clinic 24/7, the chances of dealing with complications successfully are much greater than before. The first baby born at the clinic was a girl, and her name is Virginia."
Scholarships are the main focus of FOSA and also expanding their donor base to help with tuition. They will also be funding an internship at the Virginia Wright clinic, providing a small income for a student who has completed her health-care training and is waiting for a full-time job. The average wait for full-time employment after completion of certification for any type of job is 3-5 years.


FOSA is also hoping to supply laptops with Windows 10 to graduating students as they go off to tech school, college or university, funds to ship computers and other items for the school and clinic, iPads and funds to provide support to the teachers at St. Anne's through additional training, inservice, and educational tools.


"We hope to continue with improvements to dormitory life," says Linda. "While the new dorm's bathrooms are a step up from what they had, they still consist of outhouse-type toilet and shower facilities. We are also in need of a four-wheel drive vehicle for emergency use at the medical clinic for patient transport and to pick up critical supplies. This need has been punctuated by a recent tragedy at the clinic. A woman came to the clinic in labor, and experienced complications that required her immediate transfer to a hospital. The only transportation available in the village at the time was a motor bike. On the motor bike was the driver and a person who was holding the pregnant woman, in labor, while speeding over bumpy rough roads to the hospital. The baby died, but the woman survived. We need to be able to transport people to the hospital if need be, and this vehicle, dedicated specifically for clinic and emergency use, would be available for that. We are in the process of applying for a grant to fulfill this need."


Funds for a solar energy system to provide electricity to the clinic, an X-ray machine and  a room for X-rays are needed along with a community education center and a farm tractor for maintaining the grounds at the school and clinic.


Linda emphasizes that the community members in Kapkemich are expected to take part in the improvements and expansions of St. Anne's and the Virginia Wright clinic. The community has their own fundraiser each year, and families contribute as they are able. When the solar panels were installed at the library, training of local people took place, so that maintenance and repair could be their responsibility. Very few of the girls are on full scholarships. Families are expected to contribute at least a small amount.


Linda has not yet traveled to Kapkemich. "Every time I consider going, I think about how far that money could go as scholarships or another type of donation," says Linda. "Several of our board members have visited there, however, and my sister-in-law Ruth Dakotas travels there two to three times per year. Ruth also consistently communicates with Simon, our 'boots on the ground' administrator, who takes scholarship applications and makes recommendations to us, negotiates building contracts, oversees the clinicians and teachers we employ, among many other duties. This is where Simon is invaluable. It's 'a small town,' as they say, and everybody knows everybody. While formal financial applications are required, Simon knows if a family can or cannot contribute to their daughter's fees. The people of Kapkemich and the students are of course very grateful for our help. When board members visit, they are treated as very special guests, as you can imagine."


The help this group has given the people of Kapkemich over the last 10 years has come full circle. One of the scholarship recipients has come back to Kapkemich and is now a teacher at the very school from which she graduated.


Tickets to the gala are available at Eventbrite or people may contact Linda at momschukmn@gmail.com  to request an invitation to be mailed. https://www.eventbrite.com/e/fund-a-future-10th-anniversary-of-friends-of-st-annes-girls-school-tickets-58091015792 If you would like to donate, please make out a check to Friends of St. Anne's (FOSA) and mail it Linda Schukman at  14207 Robin Road, Leavenworth, Kansas 66048. You can also donate through the website: http://st-annes-girls-school.com/

Fund A Future - 10th Anniversary of Friends of St. Anne's Girls' School

Fundraiser will be from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m., May 2 at 28 Event Space, 1300 West 28th St., Kansas City, Missouri.
The event will include a  live  and silent auction, a fishbowl raffle, with continued focus on scholarships.
Open bar and heavy hors d'oeuvres.
Live auction, offering a Mexico beach vacation, a pair of Chiefs tickets, a $1,000 meal for six to eight people at Gram & Dun, a $1,000 wine-tasting evening for six, a hand-made live-edge walnut charcuterie board with gift cards for charcuterie, and an item called "stuff the purse." Bring something fun to stuff into a designer purse: cash, gift cards, lotto tickets, event tickets, or anything else you may find in a handbag. The purse will be auctioned off during the live auction.
To find out more send your contact information to  FOSAFundAFuture@gmail.com.