Investing in girls’ education benefits everyone—it strengthens economies and contributes to stable societies. Girls who receive education are less likely to marry young and are more likely to lift themselves and their families out of poverty; yet, globally, there are still nearly 130 million girls between the ages of 6 and 17 that are not in school.

Girls’ education is not only about having access to school, but also about helping girls to feel safe and supported in classrooms. At Grand Circle Foundation, many of our projects are focused on empowering girls to feel safe and confident in school. In the video above, learn more about how important investing in girls’ education is, and then continue reading for an update on two of our largest projects for students in Kenya.

Building Amboseli Secondary School from the Ground Up

Since 2011, Grand Circle Foundation has been partnering with the Maasai community of Amboseli, Kenya. The primary school we support here is a shining example of the difference the Foundation can make in a community with the help of O.A.T. travelers. We’ve seen Amboseli Primary flourish since we began our partnership: In 2010, it was a low-performing school, ranked #67 of 90 schools in the region. I’m proud to report that by 2017, it ranked #3.

In the years we’ve been working with Amboseli, we’ve completed several projects that not only improved school performance, but also helped better the lives of the community at large. We’ve sponsored the education of 18 students—one of whom we saved from being sold into marriage at the age of 11. And we’ve built a new dormitory for girls, who have historically dropped out at an alarming rate due to chores at home, pregnancy, and the simple fact that education for girls in East Africa is not deemed as important as it is for boys.

With Amboseli Primary School thriving, they asked me for a secondary school. Harriet Lewis agreed to support the project and committed to match all traveler donations dollar for dollar. Within a year we had raised $60,000, and in 2017 we started to build.

Today, Amboseli has a secondary school, which is fed by nine local primary schools. What an opportunity for so many Maasai children, who might otherwise never been given a chance to further their education.

A Safe Space for Girls at Lemong’o Primary School

Lemong’o Primary School was founded in 1991 with no classrooms—lessons were held under a tree. It took until 2013 to complete the building of the school, which serves the local Maasai community in rural Kenya. When Grand Circle Foundation began our partnership with the school in 2014, 63 students attended.

When I first visited Lemong’o, I witnessed poverty at its lowest. There were no school textbooks—only copies for the teachers. One class had three pencils for eight students. One piece of chalk was being shared amongst five teachers. The Maasai school board chairman is tenacious in trying to get funds from the parents in the community, but the money simply isn’t there. Early Foundation projects at the school have included a new classroom, desks, benches, water tanks, textbooks, and miscellaneous school supplies.

Today, enrollment at Lemong’o is thriving with 231 students—but one crucial structure was lacking, particularly for the girls. When Maasai children are sent home after school in the evening, they are sent to collect water and firewood or care for livestock, instead of studying and doing homework. Boarding facilities enable children to concentrate on their studies.

We had one classroom that doubled as a boarding facility for the boys to sleep in, but there was nowhere safe to house the girls. Believing that a dorm would improve enrollment, academic results, and attendance, I worked with the local community to propose the construction of a 48-bed boarding facility at Lemong’o.

I’m pleased to announce that the dormitory is complete, and we can now offer 48 girls a safe place to board and empower them to access a full education. It comes at a poignant time for Lemong’o, as they will soon have a record 13 students sitting for their Kenya Primary school exit exams. I hope to see these numbers increase in the future, especially with this new opportunity for girls to make the most of their education.