02/03/2012 02:44 pm ET | Updated Apr 04, 2012


A group of local businessmen recently came to Cura Orphanage to make a donation of food, blankets, and, especially school shoes! Any parent in any country knows that children go through shoes at a particularly rapid pace, and we were thrilled to have that expense removed from our budget for the time being.

Thinking about the new shoes got me thinking, too, about all of the other expenses associated with educating the children here, at the Home and in the broader community.

With this on my mind, I had a long meeting with the primary school's headmistress, Mrs Mwathi, catching up on the six months since we've seen each other and touching base about the children's progress and the school's needs.

The PTSA members in my local school district may actively fret about replacing their children's school shoes, but there are plenty of concerns that they do not share with Cura's school leaders: the pit latrine needs to be redug, and there is often not enough water even to clean the desks, for example. In the midst of this, though, the school maintains its Mission:

To equip learners with knowledge and skills suitable in a modern world of competitive professionals

and Vision:

To become a leading educational centre for academic excellence.

The question I ask myself is: how I can best support this admirable vision in the face of such overwhelming need?

Last year, the answer to that was to purchase the first complete set of textbooks the school could remember owning ... and the teachers this year report that having those is making a measurable difference in the students' learning and their own teaching. I've committed, again, to the purchase of even more textbook materials this year, and, in fact, my next stop today is the bookstore!

This year I'm thinking more broadly about how to support that vision, as well. Mrs Mwathi and I talked about the teachers building library time into their daily schedules, for example, so that the children spend at least some time every day surrounded by opportunities to read. Many of our supporters have stocked our library -- we hope the community begins to see it as a meaningful place for their children to spend time and develop skills.

We talked, too, about maximizing the opportunities provided by the recent gift of internet access (Thank you, Access Kenya!). The open-source, free materials that my own children take as a matter of absolute necessity in their own studies are still radically outside the experience of even the teachers in Cura. I'm working with them to isolate sites that can generate worksheets and lesson plans to supplement the work they do directly in compliance with the Kenyan national standards.

And we talked about the softer side of education, as well, like making sure the children all have full bellies to fuel their brains. A school lunch program is as crucial in Cura as it is in schools all over the world. We know that children learn better when their basic needs are met.

These are some of the many concerns I'm considering today -- and I'm marveling at the degree to which Cura's teachers are committed to their students. A case in point:

As Mrs Hinga -- the deputy headmistress and one of Cura's teachers -- helped to gather a list of requested materials for me, she made a special point of asking for books and art materials for her "special needs" class. She has been implementing her own program to select those students who have been mainstreamed, by default, into classrooms that present too large a challenge for them. She introduced me to one girl with Downs Syndrome, and she spoke with warmth about how she'd like to be able to work on an individualized learning program with her, just to be sure she knows how to read.

Any child in any part of the world would be lucky to have a teacher like that.