It's a far cry from Cathy Fairley's Milton classroom.
There's no electricity, there are no school supplies. Aside from the small black board at the front of the room and a few home-made posters tacked to the walls, there's little else to aid the mounds of children who gather to learn their six subjects a day in a cramped school house in rural Kenya.
The Burlington resident and elementary school teacher is about halfway through a four-month stint in Africa where she's volunteering with Home of Grace Care Centre and teaching at three schools in the impoverished region.
During a 2009 trip to Africa, Cathy, 53, visited the home after hearing about a Kenyan native named Edina, who was once living on the streets herself, opening her house to orphans.
“How could Cathy come back from spending time with this woman and not continue to help her?” says her husband Craig Fairley. “We started sharing her story with our friends.”
Upon Cathy's return a small team of volunteers launched Home of Grace Care Centre, a non-profit organization whose goal is to fundraise for 27-year-old Edina to help send the children under her care to school.
“One boy who eats meals at Home of Grace is in Grade 7 and has 135 students in his room with no books,” says Cathy, adding that there's often one teacher for upwards of 75 kids in a classroom. “He sits in the front row, determined to learn as much as possible.”
The home is located about six hours outside Nairobi and Cathy says there are few aid organizations helping in the area. She says the AIDS epidemic has taken its toll on the community and many young people find themselves without parents and homeless.
“This is one of the poorest parts of the country and the unemployment rate is something like 80 per cent,” explains Craig. “What we've been working towards is trying to ensure the kids have the basics ““ food, shelter, emergency medicine care and education. We work very hard to try to send them to school.
“If these children are cared for, they're not a drain on the community. If they get an education they have the potential to be the leaders of Kenya's future.”
With self-sufficiency being the long-term goal of Edina, Home of Grace Care Centre raised funds to start a small farm project and the home now raises chickens, a cow and rabbits and rents farmland to grow vegetables.
The non-profit hosts two yearly events ““ a Mother's Day fundraiser and information session and a family fun day in Burlington's Central Park in September. Currently, 25 monthly donors help keep Home of Grace Care Centre alive, but Cathy says that number needs to double to continue meeting basic costs.
“Life in rural Kenya has become extremely difficult financially. Food prices have almost tripled since 2009, stable employment is rare, disease and illness continues to take its toll. Financially for Edina this means it is costing more and more to care for the children.”
She says a long-term goal would be to raise enough money to allow Edina to purchase land and expand the operation.
“The bigger hope would be for Home of Grace to be one way for people in the “˜first world' to understand the “˜third world' and find a way to share with them ““ both in terms of finances and emotionally in terms of friendship and relationships,” Cathy adds.
Cathy will return to her Milton classroom ready to talk to her students about the realities of students in other parts of the world and the effects of poverty, hunger and disease.
She says, “I guarantee every child in my class this September will be able to locate Kenya on a world map!”
For more information on Home of Grace Care Centre visit hogcc.org