Jennifer Crusco
Communications Assistant

AHA Volunteer Leaves Her Heart in Kenya

Demarest, NJ: This July, AHA student Katherine Staff left the comfort of her Oradell home for a tent camp in Maasai Mara, Kenya, where she worked to improve the health of students from the Nkineji Primary School and the local community in general.

Katherine and several adult volunteers teamed up through the Kenya Project, a program founded by Maywood Rotary Club member Kevin Williams at the insistence of his son, Corey, following a family visit to Maasai Mara. The effort began at the Empopongi Primary School, where the children needed all of the basics: clean water, food, and clothing. Over time, the Kenya Project helped build classrooms, a library, a science lab, and a kitchen. Now that this school boasts a top academic record, the volunteer group is concentrating its efforts at the Nkineji Primary School. Despite Williams’ recent passing, the project has continued with the aid of enthusiastic supporters.

Each day, the 2016 team commuted 45 minutes by van from the tent camp to the school. Katherine explained that the route is, quite literally, a rocky trip, as there are no official roads.

How did Katherine end up on this rugged adventure? Her mother is friends with Cathy Newman, a Mahwah woman who helped launch the Maasai Mara clinic, which is located in one of the classrooms. Over 600 patients visited that clinic during the 10 days the team was in Kenya.

Katherine and her fellow volunteers tackled ringworm prevention through proper hand-washing techniques. Using soap collected in the United States, the volunteers instructed the children, who soon made the connection between personal hygiene and visible improvements in the common condition. 

In addition to ringworm, typhoid is an issue in this region. Katherine said efforts have been made to build a well to ameliorate the situation, but she stuck to bottled water and soda during her visit.

This Angel clearly enjoyed interacting with the young students, and envisions a future career in pediatrics. She shared that she showed one incredulous child his own face, perhaps for the first time, as she prepared to take a “selfie.” He stared in disbelief until he recognized her as she got into the frame with him.

While Katherine demonstrates a healthy respect for the local culture, she was amazed when young girls assumed she was married. Katherine reports that some of the Kenyan girls were married at age 13.

This enthusiastic volunteer also reported that it is not a given that a child will attend school beginning at a certain age. She reported that some of the eighth grade students are 17.

“A lot of kids start school late because their parents can’t send them,” Katherine said, explaining that some children live a great distance away from a school, or their parents may rely on them to work. Some children work as shepherds, she added.

She spoke of the need to raise scholarship funds to allow the students to attend secondary school. High schools are usually located within cities, and the students must live on site, Katherine learned.

Katherine expressed her deep desire to return to Kenya.

“My heart and soul are still there!” she asserted.

Since 1879, thousands of women have passed through the portals of Academy of the Holy Angels high school, the oldest private girls’ school in New Jersey. Many go on to study at some of the nation’s best universities, earning high-ranking positions in medicine, government, law, education, public service, business, arts and athletics. Our goal is to provide each girl with the tools she needs to reach the fullness of her potential—spiritually, intellectually, socially and physically, by offering a first –rate education in a nurturing environment where equal importance is placed on academic excellence, character development, moral integrity and giving service to others.


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