So They Can was founded in 2009 by Cassandra Treadwell and Keri Chittenden in response to an immediate need that faced the community of Nakuru in Kenya, two hours north of Nairobi.
In the lead-up to the 2007 Kenyan presidential election, tribal violence left 250,000 West Kenyan residents homeless with many dead or wounded. Previously Kenya had been one of the more stable African countries with a well-developed middle class, a British-based education system and a strong agricultural economy. The violence was shocking and unanticipated.
After fleeing from their homelands, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees housed these people in temporary tents in the Nakuru showgrounds. Then in early 2008 the Kenyan Government decided to try and encourage these people to go home by giving each family $100. There was however nothing to go home to. Their homes had been destroyed, their businesses ruined and their lives had been decimated.
Approximately 6,700 of these displaced people gathered together. They showed great initiative, pooling their $100 from the government and buying land and in an area of Nakuru known as Pipeline. On this land they erected their tents. This became known as the Pipeline Camp.
On a visit by Cassandra and Keri to the Camp the community communicated to them their most desperate need – the need to educate their children. They recognised that education was the key to breaking the cycle of poverty, stopping tribal violence and empowering people to see beyond tribal allegiances.
The problem was that the existing public schools lacked the capacity to educate the children. Class sizes were between 60 to 200 children per teacher and one text book would be shared between up to 5 students. A new school model was needed.
The community took Cass and Keri to a 5 acre block of land 2kms from the Camp, informing them that the Teachers’ Co Operative owned the land and that it was designated for a public school. They asked them to speak with the Government and to build that school and to educate their children.
Negotiations began, resulting in a Memorandum of Understanding with the Kenyan Government outlining the government’s commitment to fund teachers, water, electricity and roads. So They Can would construct the school and would hold the majority on the Board of Management overseeing its management.
In 2010 the doors to the Aberdare Ranges Primary School were open and So They Can was born.
Five years on and many lives have seen positive change, much has been achieved but there is still so much more to do.