September 13, 2019
To: Stuart Kerr
From: Wayne Levenfeld
Re: Our visit to Gototo
My wife and I and several friends recently returned from a 3+ week trip to Africa, our first. The trip included all the normal tourist sites and experiences, in particular 10 days in a variety of safari camps. The trip was fabulous, as we expected it to be. However, one day turned out to be the highlight of the trip for the four of us who experienced it: our visit to the Gatoto School in Nairobi’s Mukuru kwa Reuben slum.
At the school we witnessed the impact that can be made by a heaven of peacefulness, caring, and learning in the midst of some of the worst living conditions that we have ever seen. (And we are not naïve; we have traveled to many poor countries and experienced other slums including those in Mumbai, India.)
Betty Nyagoha and her team have created a miracle of achievement at the school by (1) taking the school performance ratings from the very bottom of all schools in Kenya to the top 10%, (2) providing nearly 1100 students per year with the basic knowledge and skills to allow them a chance for a job and a better life outside of Mukuru, (3) getting a number of students each year accepted into high schools and even colleges outside the slum where they can make careers for themselves in higher paying jobs and better living conditions.
If you have not seen life in Mukuru, the achievements I mention may seen “normal” for a successful school. When you visit, however, you understand the horrible environment in which Gatoto operates. You understand they are incredible accomplishments, made all the more so by the fact that the Kenyan government provides no financial support for the school and little or none for the slum surrounding it.
The power of Gatoto is the success of its students, and we had the privilege of seeing that success powerfully displayed on the day of our visit. The school held a celebration for its choir and its elocution team, which had both won honors at an all-Kenya completion. We heard each group perform and they were wonderful. As they performed, dressed in their school uniforms, I thought that if I saw them doing the same in the auditorium of an expensive prep school, I would think they completely belonged there, both for the quality of their performances and the poise with which they delivered them. Afterward, I was appointed by my wife and friends to speak to the children about our reactions. In the middle of my short talk, my voice cracked with emotion and I had to fight back tears; such was the strength of the experience we had that day at Gatoto.
While at the school we learned that Betty will be traveling to the United States this fall and that her trip will include a visit to San Francisco, which is near our home. Our immediate reaction was to ask if we could host an event to introduce our friends to this wonderful person and her school with the hope of getting some of those friends to join us in making a financial contribution to the future of Gatoto.