2013. I was in my late twenties, had no direction in life and things felt meaningless. An acquaintance was volunteering at an orphanage in Mombasa and I decided to make the journey.
After some months at the orphanage, I grew to love the children, but struggled with the corrupt adults running it. I initiated fundraisers to help renovate the place and would buy food for the kids, only to realize it was being sold after I left at night. This was hurtful and frustrating and I could not continue working under those conditions.
Shortly after I left the orphanage, I met another woman who was working with a group of roughly 20 kids from very poor families who were not attending school. She was a lovely woman - full of life and passionate about education. I was in two minds about how to help these 20 children as private schools were too expensive and public education was of such poor quality. We bought food for the kids trying to engage them however best we could. For a while, our collaboration was fruitful, but it didn´t take long before corruption and dishonesty would surface here as well... Our partnership ended and I realized that if I wanted to make a difference, I would have to start a project by myself. Gradually, the idea of starting my own school came to materialize.
2014. With help from generous friends and family, I rented a small house, hired a couple of teachers, purchased books and uniforms. I had been introduced to the Montessori teaching method and dreamed of creating a school were children would flourish in creativity and develop skills - unlike the 30 year old Kenyan curriculum that focused on a purely academic approach to learning.
At this point my friend Lee came to visit our project. We fell in love and he stayed! His passion for conservation and permaculture, added a new element to the project; Not only would we build a primary school, but also a permaculture farm! Eco Moyo Education Centre was born!
We dove into researching how to make this all happen and attended courses in sustainable building and farming and visited Montessori schools. An exciting time filled with endless energy! Meanwhile, we are sharing a house with staff members, and operating the school from the same space! Very intimate and not without challenges...!
Thanks to unreliable landlords, we were forced to move our school three times in just one year. We dreamed of buying a plot to build our own school, but real estate was too expensive in town.
While on safari with my family, we drove through a rural village which to me was one of the most beautiful places I had even seen. Red soil and green, lush vegetation overlooking a giant bed of palm trees with an ocean view - I fell in love and bought a 10 acre plot! (This is where our school is located today - roughly 2 hours drive north from Mombasa. )
Purchasing this plot was a nightmare and I could write a book about it. After two years of dealing with village chiefs, extended family members, corrupt agents and evil lawyers, the land was finally ours!
2016. For a year we commuted between running the school in town and overseeing construction of the new site in the bush. We lived in a small mud house that served as our living space, office and materials storage - shared with three dogs and a cat!
Volunteers came from near and far to assist on different projects and more sponsors supported our work. There was no water, electricity or roads on this land when we moved there and it took a long time to get the needed infrastructure in place. We traveled back to our respective countries (Norway and Australia) to make money, then reunited in Kenya to continue with our project. The school in town continued as usual and we got to know our new community little by little.
Then, something really awesome happened; Some friends from Norway initiated the first Eco Moyo Auction. More than 40 artists donated their work and it was sold on an ebay. This incredibly successful fundraiser allowed for a much faster progression of our work. (Forever thanks to Martin Whatson and Fredrik Bornø Haukebøe making it an annual event!!!)
2017. We teamed up with Oslo school of Design and Architecture who designed, built and paid for not 1, not 2, but 3 classrooms on our site! All of a sudden there is this super modern design project going on in the middle of the bush!!! Thanks to the beautiful, crazy architect Christian Hermansen and the even more beautiful and crazy engineer Solveig Sandness!
In May, we moved our school from town to the new site. The children older than class 3 joined us as boarding students and the younger kids were enrolled in a local school in town. (We pay their school fees and when they reach class 3, they join us too). Asumptor (our school director) was given responsibility for daily operation of dormitory and school.
Obviously, everyone from the area wanted to send their kids to our school after hearing we offered free education. However, we wanted to keep class sizes small (not exceeding 30 students) and wondered how to choose "the lucky ones". The most needy children were a priority and we started interviewing many families. Eventually, we realized that pretty much everyone in our village was dirt poor... Knowing we could not help everyone, we decided to draw a geographical boundary as an enrollment criteria for attending our school. Any child from Nzunguni village would be given a place.
In September we enrolled more students from our village and by January 2018, 100 students were attending Eco Moyo!
The community struggles with many issues related to poverty. Being able to make a difference to these children's lives is so unreal! It´s been a tough, crazy and at times a dangerous journey, but incredibly rewarding! People have come from all parts of the world to help us make this happen and it has given me a very different perspective on life.
None of this would be possible without the amazing lady in the pictures below. This is Asumptor, our school director. She started working for us as a chef in 2014 and was gradually given some administrative work. The more responsibility she was given, the more she blossomed! She has really impressed all of us and without her, it´s hard to say where we would be today.
Above: Our boarding students with their mothers and siblings at a Christmas party in 2015. Plus my mom and sister :)