News - March 10, 2010

Kenyan school project flourishes with community support

by Renee Batti

(Correction: The article states that Ms. McAuliffe met Father Daniel Kiriti when he visited the Peninsula. In fact, she didn't meet him here; she learned about him from a friend, and e-mailed him several times about teaching math in Africa, and he encouraged her to fly to Nairobi. She met him for the first time in the Nairobi airport.)

It all started as a fairly modest plan: Raise about $300,000 to pay for construction of a boarding high school in a Kenyan city to help the Catholic community there educate girls in the region — an idea that caught fire with Margo McAuliffe of Menlo Park.

Some five years later, that bud of an idea has blossomed into "much more of a project than I had imagined," Ms. McAuliffe said in a recent interview.

When Anita Dippery hosts a fundraiser in her Menlo Park home on Sunday, March 14, she and other supporters of Ms. McAuliffe's nonprofit, Kenya Help, hope to nudge the sum of money raised for the school and related projects beyond the $900,000 mark.

The money is needed not only to put the finishing touches on the girls' high school in Naivasha, located about 65 miles north of Nairobi, but to provide scholarships to poor children, both girls and boys, to attend school and to offer support to a nearby orphanage whose children are educated in the town's high schools.

Ms. McAuliffe, a retired Menlo-Atherton High School math teacher, launched her project after discussing her desire to teach math to girls in Africa with Father Daniel Kiriti, a Kenyan priest she had met when he visited the area. From him, she learned that the parish high school in Naivasha was going to become a boys-only school, that land was available to build a high school for girls, and that there was no money to build the girls' school.

Soon afterward, still considering teaching in Africa, Ms. McAuliffe traveled to Naivasha; but once seeing the situation first-hand, she changed course. Her new goal was to return home and raise money to build the girls' school. Although the earliest cost estimate was $300,000, "some of the building materials, such as metal sheets for roofs ... have doubled in price," Ms. McAuliffe said.

"Also," she said, "we realized we had to offer financial assistance" to children who otherwise couldn't afford to attend — a situation that essentially eliminated the hope for a life free from the chains of poverty and, particularly for girls, bleak subservience.

Ms. McAuliffe launched the fundraising effort in mid-2005, a year after her retirement. The Menlo Park and Palo Alto communities have been a hub for raising money through a number of special events. The Kenya Help board includes Menlo Park residents Henry Organ and Anita Dippery, who has hosted several fundraisers in the Dippery home, raising thousands of dollars, according to Anita's husband, Dan.

The March 14 Kenya Help presentation and fundraiser is set for 2 to 4 p.m. at the Dippery home, 455 Santa Rita Ave. in Menlo Park. Those interested in attending are asked to contact Ms. Dippery at 325-9936 or at


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