Student Travels to Kenya on a Dream of Schools for All Youth

Share

A big dream of schools for all children envisioned by UC Berkeley student Justin Li is taking him all the way to Kenya later this month, where an organization he helped found at Cupertino High School is currently helping three schools.

Justin Li holding his 2011 Sandlot Award.

Li is traveling July 29 with two other members of the student-run nonprofit called Kenya Dream, to visit the schools in Meru County, formerly known as the Eastern Province, in the country on the eastern coast of Africa.

“Words can’t really describe how I feel about this upcoming trip,” Li said. “I have spent over five years putting my heart into Kenya Dream, and I know for a fact that my life is going to be changed forever when I finally get to see the work we as a community have done. I know I will probably break down and cry when I see each school.”

Li, fellow co-founder and Berkeley student Lisa Nguyen, and current co-president of Cupertino High’s Kenya Dream Matt Workman, will spend 16 days touring the province with representatives from an organization they are partnered with, Friends of Kenya Schools and Wildlife. Kenya Dream is working with Kenya Schools to fund tuition and supplies for more than 50 students.

The team will not only visit Nthimbiri Secondary School, Nkubu Victory Acadamy, and Kachiuru School, to see how the approximately $100,000 Kenya Dream has raised since 2007 has been put to work, they will also visit other sites the group might help.

“I can’t wait to immerse myself into the culture, meet the students we have been supporting, and make new connections for future projects,” said Li.

Current projects Kenya Dream is supporting at the three schools include the installation of a propane gas system for a science laboratory, furnishings and books for a new library, and numerous other rehabilitation projects.

Li’s dreams go beyond Kenya, however. Plans are in the works for an umbrella nonprofit called Dreams for Schools, with chapters helping schools all over the world, including the United States.

Students Lead the Way

Currently Kenya Dream has two chapters, the original chapter at Cupertino High School, and one at UC Irvine, launched by another Cupertino alumnus. To raise the thousands of dollars used to help Kenyan students, the chapters sponsor popular dance showcases. In February the Cupertino chapter hosted a sold-out hip hop showcase for more than 2,600 attendees at a San Jose theater, bringing in $17,000, according to Li.

Kenya Dream Cupertino High School Chapter

The nonprofit is also partnered with the Cupertino Rotary Club, which has been a strong supporter of Kenya Dream, and serves as its fiscal sponsor, Li said.

“What I really like about Kenya Dream and Dreams for Schools is that we really focus on the students putting together everything themselves and learning by doing,” he said.

It’s that spirit of student leadership that birthed the first Kenya Dream group. Li and other leaders of the Cupertino High School Class of 2010 wanted to do something different with the money classes usually raise for things like parties and dances. They wanted to help students like themselves who were less fortunate.

In May 2007, 90 percent of the class members signed a petition saying they agreed with giving 100 percent of funds raised to go toward newly formed Kenya Dream. Thanks to a personal connection between a Cupertino High advisor and the principal at Nthimbiri Secondary School, the Cupertino teens decided to specifically help Kenyan students.

“We knew the money wasn’t going to get sucked down a black hole,” Li said, noting the concern about donating money to Third World countries where aid sometimes gets waylaid by governments or other organizations.

Dream of Helping Others

For Li the new organization was something that “completely resonated” with him, citing a desire to help others since he was younger.

“I feel like I’m very privileged to be growing up in the Silicon Valley and going to such a great high school district, and I always thought about doing something to give back to the community,” he said. “It’s just something I believe is my responsibility.”

Li’s involvement in Kenya Dream and his commitment to helping others caught the attention of the founders of the Justin Perkins Sandlot Award, who bestowed the award to Li in 2011 without even having applied for it.

The award was created in 2009 at Monta Vista High School in Cupertino to honor the memory of Perkins, an inspirational young alumnus who died of cancer in 2008. It’s now offered at four of the five Fremont Union High School District campuses, and could encompass all five schools by next spring. It specifically recognizes students, and in some cases teachers, who display kindness to others and the community because of a sincere desire to help, not to earn accolades for scholarships or college admissions.

“I do Kenya Dream because it’s something that I love doing. I’m not really using it to apply to all these scholarships for community stuff,” Li said. The award, he said, “really meant a lot to me.”

Future Dreams

Li now studies business administration at Berkeley, with a minor in Global Poverty and Practice, unique to the university. He plans on starting a Kenya Dream chapter at Berkeley in the coming year. He maintains close ties with the Cupertino Kenya Dream chapter as an advisor, and was asked by a student from neighboring Fremont High School to help start a chapter there.

As for what he’ll do after graduation, Li said he’s considering applying for the Peace Corps, but he still wants to spread the message of the original dream.

“I’d like to expand Kenya Dream and Dreams for Schools to another level, where every high school around the Silicon Valley has a Kenya Dream Club or Dreams for Schools…(I want to) let other middle school, high school, and college students know that they can do something beyond themselves,” he said.

No matter what Li winds up doing, it’s not surprising that one thought is guiding his decision making process: “Anything related to giving back.”

Comments

  1. This is a great story and it’s wonderful to see how Kenya Dream has continued to grow and expand beyond Cupertino High and the 2010 graduating class. My daughter Monique Crowe (class of 2011) worked in student government with Justin Li on many of the fundraisers for it.

  2. Pam Marino says:

    Thank you for your comment, Michelle! That’s wonderful your daughter was able to help with the fundraisers.