Our Stories

Our Founding Project Transitions to “Sustained” Phase

12 years ago Cass Treadwell was visiting a Kenyan Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camp when she was asked by the community to build a school. Within a year, Cass Treadwell, Keri Chittenden and their friends had banded together and raised the funds to do just that. The school, Aberdare Ranges Primary School, became the founding project for So They Can. After 10 years of working together, the school is now ready to move to the “Sustained” phase. Over the next few years, we’ll be transitioning to a governance model with the school, where we’ll continue to support the school with key projects but the community will take the reins. We interviewed Cass to find out more. 


Aberdare Ranges Primary School was the founding project for So They Can [watch Cass’s TED talk to hear the story], how does it feel to finally be at the stage where we can hand the school over to the community?

It feels phenomenal.  To have our founding project reach the sustained stage is empirical confirmation that we are achieving our vision of sustainable education for some of the poorest children in the world.


Why are we now transitioning to the sustained approach with Aberdare Ranges?

From the beginning, we had a 10-year focus: to support communities and their government to create, and then sustainably operate our partner public schools, enabling us to move to more needy areas.  In 2010 we started constructing Aberdare Ranges, our flagship, first project.  We entered into a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the Ministry of Education that cemented our public-private partnership, a unique point of difference for So They Can. The MOU outlined that, when the school was able, we would exit from a funding point of view while remaining involved in the governance, working with the school community to ensure it’s a success. To see this challenging plan succeed is extremely exciting.


From the beginning, we had a 10-year focus: to support communities and their government to create, and then sustainably operate our partner public schools, enabling us to move to more needy areas. 


How are we supporting the school community through this transition? 

For the last 3-4 years, the Aberdare Ranges project has been gradually transitioning towards their sustainability goal. During this time we implemented planned measures to reduce funding, and thereby increase project sustainability by engaging parents to take up more responsibilities for their children. It started with encouraging parent’s contribution to projects and strengthening the role of the community through a competent Board of Management (BoM), who we’ve trained to ensure they’re ready and able to lead effectively.

Over the next four years, we have a clear plan for our transition. In 2021, we’ll start a broader consultation with all key stakeholders (parents, teachers, students and Ministry of Education officials) about our plans to phase out financial support by 2024, ensuring that we will have an ongoing relationship and interest in the school, be part of the BoM, and continue to bring volunteers and allowing our broader community to visit. 


Cass addressing the community at ARPS


How did we plan for this moment? 

Our exit strategy was front of mind from the beginning.  We have a phasic approach for our schools to move from a Foundation School, to a Core School and then onto a Sustained School.  Our Foundation Schools are at the beginning of their partnership with So They Can, having a number of, but not all our projects introduced, in order for us all to get to know each other and fulfil our agreements with each other. 

Once this has been cemented then the school moves on to become one of our Core Schools, where we add more projects having the confidence they will succeed. Finally, with the support of our Enhancement Programs (Child Wellbeing, Community Health and Development and Women’s Empowerment) the school community is able to fund the school itself. This enables that school to be able to stand on its own, hence becoming one of our Sustained Schools.


What does this mean for the future of Aberdare Ranges?

It means that the community now has what it asked us for 12 years ago – the ability to educate their children themselves so they can break the poverty cycle forever.


What about the sponsored students?

All our current Aberdare sponsors will continue supporting their children until 2024 (or earlier if they reach the end of their primary education before this date).  Then we will invite them to either sponsor one of our children in our East Pokot community, which is at the beginning of the 10 year cycle with us so they are in need of a great deal of support, or join our Msomi Scholarships Program where their funding will support our highest academic achievers through secondary and tertiary education.


The community now has what it asked us for 12 years ago – the ability to educate their children themselves so they can break the poverty cycle forever.


Will So They Can ever build any other schools like Aberdare Ranges?

Hah – good question. It is not in our 2030 strategic plan to do so given our focus will remain in Kenya and Tanzania with our 3 current communities where there are enough public schools that we can partner with without having to construct from scratch.


What has your proudest moment been with Aberdare Ranges (we’re sure it’s hard to pick one)?

Oh that is a very hard question as there have been so many highs over the last decade. Here are a few:

  • Having 100%  of our inaugural class 8 students transition to secondary school when the public school average was 40% historically was a huge relief and confirmation that we were on the right track.
  • I love being at school assemblies where the children are so incredibly expressive, dealing with their trauma through poetry and dance so proudly.
  • I loved seeing Fasul, one of our Miti Mingi Village children, become the School President.  Fasul is an incredibly proud and positive young man who lost so many of his family and is determined to be the Kenyan President so that he can, as he told me, “invite the world leaders to his house and teach them what it means to be peaceful”.
  • Ultimately, whenever I walk into Aberdare Ranges and see the children’s smiles and enthusiasm to learn, I take a deep breath of satisfaction.



Wow, what a milestone! We can’t help but beam with pride listening to Cass’s stories and we’re so grateful to our staff, the government and the amazing community we work with for joining us on this journey.


We would also like to take a moment to thank every single one of our community members for your support over the last decade. Without you, none of this would be possible. 


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