Sunday, November 27, 2011

The Thorn Tree Project

I hope you can join me on Wed., Nov. 30th at a cocktail party for the Thorn Tree Project and the Samburu Scholarship Fund, which I'm one of the founders of.  It will be at CLIC Gallery, 255 Centre St. (at Broome St.) from 6:00-8:30pm (see invite below). The evening will be fun and celebratory with a few slides, a Q&A and lots of drinks, hors d'oeuvres and interesting people.  Please RSVP to Jane Newman at


A 6-minute video about the program is at: and the web site is:


Here's an excerpt from a web page I posted ( about the origins of the Samburu Scholarship Fund, which now has 85 students and is growing rapidly, and the first scholarship recipient, Juma Emmanuel:

I first visited the public school in the tiny, remote town of Sereolipi in northern Kenya in December 2004 (see pictures  After this visit, I donated and raised money to build dormitories and fund other needs of the school so that more nomadic Samburu children could receive a primary school education.

When I returned to the school in January 2006, I became aware of a pressing problem: once students graduated from primary school, they could not afford to attend secondary (high) school.  In Kenya, to get any job, even bagging groceries or pumping gas (much less one with the government or in the private sector), a secondary school degree is required.  I heard very sad stories of top primary school students who started secondary school, but fell behind because after every semester they would have to return home and beg for money from their family and community.  By the time they'd raised the money to continue their schooling, they returned to school a week late and had difficulty catching up.  And if they failed to raise enough money for even one semester, they dropped out and all of their hard work and money was wasted.

So, my friend Ciccio Azzollini and I decided to create and fund the Samburu Scholarship Fund, which would pay for tuition, room, board, books, uniforms and travel costs for deserving students.  After we made this announcement to all of the students, families and faculty of the Sereolipi Primary School, which not surprisingly generated a great deal of excitement, a young man (whom we later learned was Juma Emmanuel) approached us and said, "Please sir, can I have a scholarship?"  He showed us his test scores, which were the best in the school, and his admission letter to the best boys school in the region (every 8th grader in Kenya takes a national test, which determines whether one qualifies for secondary school, and whether one can go to a top school).  After verifying his story, we awarded him the first scholarship of the Samburu Scholarship Fund and, after the chief of the region purchased him what he needed (including his first pair of shoes and underwear in his life), we started secondary school a few days later.  The total cost for the entire year is only $1,000.

Juma has a compelling, heartbreaking story.  He is an orphan and his earliest memories are from the age of seven, when he was a homeless street kid in a town called Eldoret.  A policeman found him and took him to his home where he looked after him and had him work as a servant doing domestic chores.  He also went to school when he had the opportunity.  When the policeman was posted to Sereolipi, he brought Juma along and enrolled him in the Sereolipi Primary School.  Juma loved school so when the policeman eventually moved to a new posting, Juma stayed on at the school as a boarding student.  He worked hard and, as noted earlier, had the highest score in his class (306 out of 500) on the national 8th grade exam and was accepted at Maralal High School, the best boys school in the district.  But with no money and no family, he had zero chance of ever going back to school, so when we encountered him, he was still living in the dormitory with the younger children, in despair. 

He was overjoyed to receive the scholarship (see his thank you letter below) and has continued to apply himself in school.


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