Following Their Dreams

Beads for Education helps girls in Kenya go to school and create brighter futures

Feb 08, 2013 | By Elizabeth Winchester
DON HEBERT PHOTOGRAPHY

Lisa Stevens (left) and Debby Rooney talk to girls at a school in Kenya.

When Florence Nasoore was 12 and living in rural Kenya, in Africa, she wanted nothing more than to continue her education. But for many Kenyan girls, school is not an option. School costs money. Families are more likely to spend it on educating boys. Many girls are forced to marry.

But Florence was able to pursue her dream thanks to Beads for Education. Americans Debby Rooney and Lisa Stevens started Beads. The group matches girls with sponsors who pay for school. Florence was the first of 320 Kenyan girls in third grade through college whom Beads sponsored.

This January, Beads opened a high school. "It's the realization of a dream to provide our girls with the best education possible and prepare them for college and beyond," Stevens told TFK. Rooney was there to dedicate the school.

Bead by Bead

On a 1991 visit to Kenya, Rooney heard about women who were making and selling beaded bracelets, baskets and necklaces, and using the money they earned to send their daughters to school. Two years later, Rooney started Beads by selling the Kenyan crafts in the U.S. Stevens joined the project soon after.

In 1998, Beads began matching girls with sponsors. Since then, the group has helped build three libraries and an elementary school (see "What Money Can Buy"). Beads also helps train teachers.

The new high school is named Tembea, which means "to walk," in Swahili. Florence is walking toward a bright future. She graduated from college in 2010 and is now a teacher. "Florence is the first in her family to finish high school and college," says Stevens. "She is an example of the potential for all girls in Kenya."