‘Ottawa’ Ottawa’s Mitch Kurylowicz Raised $1 Million for Boys’ High school in Kenya
The determination of Ottawa’s Mitch Kurylowicz has given shape to the dreams of a Maasai teenager — Francis Naimodu wants to be an engineer — in rural Kenya.
Naimodu is one of 33 students enrolled in the freshman class at Ngulot Secondary School, which opened its doors earlier this year. High schools in Kenya charge tuitions set by the government, but at Ngulot those fees are covered by scholarships, making it one of the few “free” high schools in the country.
More than 380 students applied for a place in the all-boys school.
The school — Ngulot means “strength” in Swahili — is the culmination of a remarkable six-year effort by Kurylowicz, 19, an Ashbury College graduate now studying political science at the University of Toronto.
He was 12 when he travelled for a second time to southern Kenya with his family on a trip offered by ME to WE, a social enterprise that supports WE Charity (formerly Free The Children), an organization founded by Craig and Marc Kielburger.
In Narok County, Kurylowicz attended the opening of the Kisaruni All Girls Secondary School, the first boarding school in the region to cater exclusively to girls. The young Kurylowicz was astonished to learn there was no equivalent for boys.
“I didn’t think it was fair that I had a chance to go to school back in Canada and my new friends – who I had just played soccer with – they didn’t have a chance to go to school. I wanted to change that.”
Kurylowicz returned to Ottawa and set about raising money to build a school for boys in the same community. He labeled the effort Project Jenga. He raised $5,000 in two weeks at his elementary school, Steve MacLean P.S., but quickly realized he would need a lot more help to reach his goal.
So he drew on his network of family, friends and classmates to launch an annual fundraising gala in Ottawa and held other events in Toronto and Calgary with the help of the Kielburgers. In six years, Project Jenga has raised more than $1 million.
“Why did I act? Because I felt responsible,” he said. “I felt responsible to help my peers, the people I had bonded with. I wanted them to have the same opportunities that I had.”
The groundbreaking ceremony for the school took place in August 2014, by which time Kurylowicz was about to enter his final year of high school at Ashbury College.
Now in his second year at U of T, Kurylowicz continues to raise money for the second stage of school construction, which is to include some new classrooms and a soccer pitch. He’s also raising money to finance future scholarships at the school. It costs $10,000 to finance a student’s four years of education.
“We’d like to make it self-sustaining in 10 years,” said Kurylowicz, who was in Kenya to attend the school’s opening in January.
He met then with the inaugural class of students, each of whom stood up to announce his ambitions.
“It was really quite an emotional thing. They’d stand up and say, ‘I’m so and so, and I want to be a doctor. I want to be an engineer. I want to be a politician.’ It was so amazing knowing that Project Jenga has had a hand in supporting that.”
Among the students who stood up was Francis Naimodu, a youth who was raised by his older brother, Peter, after the death of their parents. He worked as a goatherder to raise the money for his elementary school fees. He’s the first one in his family to attend high school.
“I want to be an engineer, to learn to build many things,” he says in a video produced to mark the school’s opening.
Kurylowicz travelled to Naimodu’s home. “He’s a fantastic student,” said Kurylowicz. “He’s a community fixer. He’s the person that people go to when they need some engineering help.
“He’s already a leader in the school, and hopefully, he’ll one day be a leader in his country as well.”