In Kenya, where Warner School alumnus Joseph Kigunda ’86 (MS) grew up and now lives, it is not uncommon for the Maasai people to marry off their young daughters to old men. So when Kigunda’s 11-year-old daughter asked if her 10-year-old Maasai girlfriend could live with them and attend school instead, he agreed.
Later that year, after hearing Kigunda explain the community benefits of education, the girl’s father donated five acres of land for a school that would give orphans and other vulnerable children—those who have disabilities or have been rescued from early marriages and forced circumcision—special education services and the skills they need to be independent in the future.
Kigunda and his wife, Jennifer, started the Tania Integrated Rehabilitation Centre nearly nine years ago. Named after a stony hill on the bed of Kenya’s Great Rift Valley, Tania is located in the pastoral heart of Maasai land, an area that starts about 12 miles south of Nairobi and extends to the Tanzanian border. Its people wear traditional clothing and live the same way they have for centuries. Before the school opened, children often were abandoned at home while their parents searched for green pastures for their cows.
Being proprietor of such a place can be overwhelming. When the challenges of providing education, shelter, meals and love to more than 100 underprivileged children gets to be too much, Kigunda gets out of bed in the middle of the night to seek God’s guidance. That happens most often when food is scarce.
One exciting development is the construction of a modern girls’ dormitory (at a U.S. cost equivalent of $30,000). But funds are needed for much more, including a boys’ dormitory, dining room, kitchen, classrooms and a dispensary.
And school fees only go so far.
“We sometimes get support from individuals, well wishers and the church,” says Kigunda, but it’s not even enough to meet all of the school’s regular expenses. As a result, he often spends his afternoons—and at times his evenings—searching for donations of food and other materials.
Kigunda has a history of making progress in underrepresented areas. For example, as Kenya’s Ministry of Education inspectorate in charge of special education in 1987, he was instrumental in developing and documenting Kenyan sign language. Within a year the Kenyan Government established a commission, on which Kigunda served as secretary, to explore the teaching of deaf children. Today, sign language in that country is commonly used at meetings, on television and in books used by the Methodist Church. Meanwhile, Tania has introduced farming to the Maasai community as a means of livelihood and has established the missionary-based Tania Community Church there.
To relax at night, Kigunda leads the under-10 crowd in his house (home to several relatives and friends) in storytelling and drama sessions that focus on African folk tales and Bible lessons.
“This is so enjoyable for all of us,” he says, then adds with a chuckle, “it also keeps me awake as I do not go to sleep early.”
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