When Rinda Hayes and her daughter traveled to the rural Kinango District of Kenya in 2004, they were stunned by the extreme poverty they found in the village of Bahakwenu. Rinda was also inspired by the tenacity of the children in the village, who would do anything necessary to get an education. She had never observed such a single-minded desire to learn. The children she met walked miles to sit on a mud floor to study for eight hours without a single book. Their school day consisted solely of listening to a teacher in an overcrowded class.
Perhaps no Kenyan impressed Rinda more than Joseph Mwengea, the Headmaster of the Primary School in Bahakwenu. Joseph is an intelligent and driven man and a determined advocate for his students. As he and Rinda met together during her first visit to his village, he pleaded with her to help him help the students of Bahakwenu. He watched bright and capable students leave primary school with little or no hope of attending secondary school due to their inability to pay the required fees.
After her visit, Rinda determined to return to the United States and share her stories of this community and the people who had so impressed her. She believed she could find caring American individuals and families that would provide financial support for top Kenyan students, enabling these students to complete a secondary education. The Kenya Keys sponsorship program began with 14 students.
Six months later, Rinda returned to Kenya with her husband, Brent Hayes. Brent had previously lived and worked in Africa and was eager to work with Rinda to expand the sponsorship program. On that visit, Brent and Rinda established a Kenyan Board of Directors.
As the sponsorship program grew, the critical needs related to educational infrastructure became glaringly apparent. One by one, new projects were added. Old classrooms were upgraded. New classrooms were built. New schools were added to the Kenya Keys service area. Libraries were constructed and stocked with books. From a girls dormitory, to desks, to latrines – slowly, Kenya Keys began transforming the infrastructure and resources of Kenyan schools.
Brent and Rinda began making informative presentations to schools and civic groups. More people became involved. One of the hallmarks of the Kenya Keys program is its personalization and individual impact. Each sponsored student exchanges letters and pictures with his or her sponsor on a regular basis. On their trips to Kenya, Brent and Rinda take volunteer interns to help them with the work of the program. The interns work in the classrooms and meet one-on-one with sponsored students. One person at a time, lives are being changed by the work that started with one woman who decided she had the ability to make a difference.