Sayo’s hope for better lives

While James Madison University is located in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley, a world away from some of the world’s challenges, the impact of JMU is hardly isolated. In our next two blog posts, JMU staff writer Janet Smith (’81) and Associate Professor of middle, secondary and mathematics education Michelle Cude illuminate what happens when the Madison spirit travels to distant lands and how such an intersection of cultures can bring positive change on both sides of the Atlantic…..

A dream, a haven, a reality

By Janet Smith (‘81)

kenya 1 088When Alice Sayo arrived at James Madison University in 2011 as an international exchange fellow, she quickly discovered she was among kindred spirits.

The public high-school principal found JMU’s Be the Change attitude in her College of Education faculty and student colleagues and soon felt comfortable sharing her dream for a new school in her hometown of Narok, Kenya, where the closest public school is about 6 kilometers away.

Only four years later, the Nasaruni Academy for Maasai Girls – Sayo’s hope for better lives – is a growing reality since its establishment in 2012 with 13 students.

Nasaruni, which means “haven” in the Maasai language, is just that for 50 girls enrolled in grades K-3 of the day school. With four teachers plus a volunteer student teacher on staff, the girls are learning English, Swahili, social studies, math, geography and sciences in the standard curriculum required by the Kenyan government.

The academy is their haven from a future without education that usually results in a lifetime of employment as babysitters or domestic workers or arranged marriages at ages 14 or 15, according to Alice Sayo’s husband, Bishop Moses Sayo, who visited JMU in the spring semester. He serves as assistant director of the academy led by his wife.

kenya smcam1 143“All along she had this dream,” Moses Sayo recalled. He related that his wife’s life did not follow the usual Maasai path after the death of her father. Her mother and an older brother wanted more for Alice, the 11th of 12 children, and made sure she graduated from high school in Kenya and went on to higher education.

During her International Leaders in Education fellowship at JMU, she was “inspired that anything is possible,” Moses said. And Alice had more than a dream in her quiver of resources. She had support, including monetary support, from her JMU friends. Members of the social studies methods class she was enrolled in at JMU raised money to help purchase 5 acres of land for the academy.

Alice’s dream spurred the members of Future Social Studies Educators at JMU to dream big and join her in making a real difference. FSSE exists so future social studies teachers can network with each other and the outside education community to better prepare for teaching.

The organization, with Dr. Michelle Cude, associate professor of middle, secondary and mathematics education, as faculty advisor, views Nasaruni Academy as its main charity.

Alice and Moses Sayo

Alice Sayo and Bishop Moses Sayo

Brandi St John, FSSE’s vice president of administration and service, said the organization’s sustained commitment to the school has led to the purchase of desks for the classroom and collection of toothbrushes and other personal supplies the girls may need. “Over the past year, we have exclusively been focusing on raising money for a dormitory so that the school can have more girls attend. We have also been in contact with H2O for Life and are working to have our school on their list of sites that people can fund to help build the girls a well for fresh water.”

Michele Cude and Alice Sayo

Michele Cude and Alice Sayo

St John, a history major who will complete her master of arts in teaching degree in 2016, sees supporting the Nasaruni Academy as important in her future role as a social studies teacher. “I chose to teach social studies because I want to help students see the global impact that each of us can make on any given day.”

Her involvement with FSSE and the academy has given St John a clearer, more specific illustration of the educational plight of girls internationally. “We all know that in other parts of the world women do not get a chance to be educated, but until you know of a particular group and spend time learning and helping those girls, you don’t think much of it and after a while they become an afterthought. The Nasaruni Academy has truly show me what it is like to fight for an education and how hard it is to gain that education.”

kenya smcam1 064

“I hope to bring everything that I have learned and the experiences I have gained from my work with the Nasaruni Academy, Dr. Cude and Bishop Sayo into my classroom and hopefully show my students what education and cultural values are like in other parts of the world and how they can each make an impact in other parts of the world from their desks in the United States.”

Moses Sayo, who is now back in Kenya, said while visiting JMU, “I am thrilled to realize we have like-minded people here at JMU. We are making connections to make things happen. I find great inspiration in that.”

kenya 1 238To learn more visit these websites:

Photographs courtesy of Michelle Cude

About James Madison University
This blog is about the people of James Madison University — a caring, committed and engaged community spread all over the world, making lives better and brighter, healthier and safer, kinder and bolder. As Gandhi suggested, we are taking steps to BE the CHANGE we wish to see in the world. And these are our stories....

3 Responses to Sayo’s hope for better lives

  1. Louise Cox says:

    Wonderful to read. I was the first Peace Corps V olunteer of MC/ JMU to go in the field to Sierra Leone in 1967.


  2. Pingback: The gift that Nasaruni brings | James Madison University's Be the Change

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