Finding Charlie Waigi
In March 2007, Charlie Waigi, was “found” in Limuru, Kenya. After almost 20 years without an up-to-date address or contact information on the alumni rolls of Williams College Charlie’s old classmates were determined to track him down and convince him to attend his 35th class reunion. Thanks to a classmate with connections in the World Bank’s Nairobi office, Paul Grossberg of Berkeley, CA finally received a cell phone number for Charlie. Dialing the number halfway around the world, Paul reached his old friend Charlie and after some joyous greetings were exchanged, he informed Charlie that he “had been lost”. Charlie’s apologetic reply was classic: “I didn’t know I was lost.”
And in truth, Charlie never was lost, just out of touch with some old college friends who promptly remedied the situation by helping Charlie and his wife Teresia return to Williams College in the Berkshire Mountains of Massachusetts for the first time since he graduated in 1972.
The class reunion reconnected the old friends and also set in motion another, even more important, connection. The reunion conversations also revealed that Charlie and Teresia had founded a school in his old home village of Limuru, an hour’s drive northwest of Nairobi. Recognizing an exceptional opportunity to make a difference, those old college friends embarked on an effort, in partnership with Asante Africa Foundation, to raise funds to help Jeremy Academy. Now, three years later, in 2011, there is a new and still expanding school building in Limuru along with many other needed amenities.
Creating a Reality From a Vision — Jeremy Academy
Charlie’s old college friends were not surprised to learn that he and Teresia were running an exceptional school in Limuru. Erna Grasz, CEO of Asante Africa Foundation, an organization active in education programs in East Africa, returned from an early visit to Jeremy Academy and observed to Williams donors that Charlie and Teresia were running one of the best schools they had seen in the region. Their combination of educational vision and administrative skills was producing some remarkable results at Jeremy Academy. Give some credit for that vision to the liberal arts education that Charlie received at Williams College, and afterward at Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School. Also credit Teresia’s unique academic credentials, including training and expertise in teaching special needs students, an underserved population in Kenya and most developing nations. And finally, give credit to Charlie’s professional career in Kenya’s finance and economic development organizations which brought fresh administrative skills to building and running a school.
Jeremy Academy is a work in progress and there is more to do. Recent visits by Charlie’s Williams friends, Paul Grossberg and Ned Palmer found great progress on the building and campus improvements, including dining hall, sanitary facilities and a new dormitory to house students whose family or other circumstances require boarding options.
2011 Report from Jeremy Academy
Jeremy Academy has come a long way since Charlie and Teresia started the school literally in their backyard in 1999 with nine students enrolled. The expanding facilities, built with financial help from Asante Africa Foundation and Charlie’s friends from Williams College, are the visible signs of progress. But the academic outcomes tell the real story of Jeremy Academy’s impact on the students.
Today, the school consists of 469 students spread from kindergarten through the 8th grade, including a unit which caters to special needs children, a unique service for the Limuru area. Students come from within a range of 15 kilometers via the school’s three school buses. : “All students enjoy a hot lunch at school which is cooked in the cafeteria on stoves which are fueled by a novel bio-fuel system that Charlie has developed using cow dung as the fuel base.”
The school is projected to top out at 500 students in two to three years, of which 200 will be boarders, mostly 6th, 7th and 8th graders. These older students will enjoy an advantage of being in school for 12 hours a day for 7 days a week as they prepare for the all important CPE exams which determine who is eligible to attend high school. The school’s 8th graders have performed progressively better each year since 2008 when they first started taking the exams. In 2008 the students’ results placed them in 5th position in the district. By 2010, the Jeremy Academy exam results placed the school first among the 21 schools in their zone and a second placed ranking among the 59 primary schools in their district. Notably, all 21 of Jeremy Academy’s 2010 graduates matriculated into high school, just as all of the graduates in 2008 and 2009 had before them.
Why are these results so important? Since Kenya does not have universal education through high school, the test results are the critical filter determining who is able to continue on to high school and who is effectively finished with their schooling after the 8th grade. The latter group is unfortunately consigned to very dim socio-economic prospects for the rest of their lives.
The infrastructure development of the school has been undertaken in a deliberate and thoughtful way, with Charlie serving as the lead construction manager. Cinder blocks which are used to build up the school building walls are made on-site to ensure quality control and to save money. Likewise, the foundation rocks are hewn on-site as is the metal work that forms the new windows, doors and desk frames. Little scrap is discarded, as it often can be used as an ingredient in the next phase of building. And lest you wonder where the cow dung comes from to fuel the cafeteria’s stoves, you need to look no further than the two (purple) cows that reside in Charlie and Teresia’s rear yard cow shed!
Charlie’s and Teresia’s vision for Jeremy Academy is seen in the bricks and mortar of the new buildings and the designs for future expansion. Their vision for the children of Limuru and the future of Kenya is seen in the educational results they have given their lives to deliver to their students. And perhaps, one day, to watch a Jeremy Academy student graduate from Williams College.