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Ellis '01 founds school for Kenyan children in low-income community

Five hundred twenty children from Nairobi, Kenya — who previosuly had little choice but to stay at home because their parents could not afford a formal education for them — are now spending their days learning math, Swahili, English and music, thanks to Ann Ellis '01.

Ellis spent this intersession in Kenya putting the final touches on her school for the children, which opened Jan. 24.

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"They were such perfect children, just so excited, so grateful that people would have interest in them," Ellis said.

Ellis said she first thought of founding the school during a trip to Kenya the summer after her freshman year. "I fell in love with [Kenya] right away," she said. "The people are just amazing. It was nothing that I could have ever imagined it to be."

"I guess the reason I wanted to continue to do something there, and would like to go back eventually, is because I have never been so joyously happy," she added.

Ellis spent that summer working in an orphanage in Nairobi and teaching at a low-income school. While at the orphanage, Ellis spent time in Kibera on the outskirts of Nairobi. She said she was struck by the horrible living conditions in the area and that none of the children attended school.

"If there could be some school or community center in the community, that would help them help themselves," Ellis said.

Ellis said she has been organizing an ongoing project since that summer. She explained that she has set up a program to train mothers in the community to become teachers, has found buildings for the school in the area and has worked on funding the project.

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Ellis said she wanted to have a corporation financially committed to the school so that it would have the funding to be a long-term project.

Corporate support

Johnson & Johnson agreed to fund the school after a trial period of six months to a year, she said.

Until then, Ellis has managed to get funding from the University, St. Paul's Church and School in Princeton and Flynn & O'Hara Uniform Company.

This semester, she has started to organize a pen-pal system between students at the school and University students.

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Ellis also plans to start a summer service program for University students to travel to Kenya and teach at the school.

Ellis said her experiences helped her to feel appreciative. She said she was struck by the tightly-packed community of mud huts, surrounded by rocks and rivers, and not easily accessible by main roads.

She added that she was struck by the fact that "people [in Kenya] are so happy with the little they have."

"It would affect students so much to see something like that," she said. "No matter how much they tell you, it doesn't hit home until you really experience it."

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