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The era of COVID has of course required a lot of adaptability and constant conversation among our staff and community board about a role for SYEF in supporting our youth, their families, and the broader community. Our usual programming and activities were largely put on hold in order to be part of the needed measures to help mitigate the spread of disease — physical distancing, no large gatherings, among others – as well as recognizing that many of our youth had household responsibilities to support during the crisis.

Our Samburu staff recognized a number of needs which were generally in need of quick attention, and organized a role for the organization in the community. This included:

  • Supporting high-risk individuals with basic needs, with a focus on older members of the community. We focused on food security and distributing disease-prevention supplies such as sanitizer and gloves.
  • We went household to household to provide accurate information about disease spread and recommended measures to mitigate risk.
  • We provided start-up funds to two women to launch a small enterprise of sewing and selling masks
  • We provided free educational study materials to our students for independent study, to keep them in a habit of learning and studying
  • We have provided a weekly basic income to our 25 beadwork artisan partners, since tourism has come to a halt in Kenya and there are no opportunities for beadwork sales to tourists. In addition, we promoted online sales of beadwork to support the women.

All of our efforts were in partnership and approval by local chiefs and elders, an important collaboration in the Samburu culture. COVID continues to remind us of the value of adaptability and an ability to make decisions in environments of uncertainty and change. This crisis has showcased the leadership of our staff, who have been out front on these activities and recognized as leaders in the community in providing support to people during this crisis. We even received recognition from a representative of Kenya’s president, thanking us for our efforts in Samburu!

The 13 students that comprise our sixth cohort of students completed high school in November 2019. They join our other 64 alumni to be among a small percentage of individuals in their community to complete a high school education. Following receipt of their national exam results early in 2020, they will be equipped to pursue post-secondary education, employment, as well as other necessities for transitioning to adulthood, such as a national identification card and similar country requirements.

Our students attended schools throughout Kenya, and as a result, experienced people and places that were novel, eye-opening and broadened their horizons. Some of our students had never traveled further than a few kilometers from their home community before attending high school hundreds of kilometers away, in areas with different climates, tribes and customs. While unfamiliar environments can initially feel unnerving, they also facilitate personal growth, adaptability and the value of diversity.

We have high hopes for our new alumni as they determine their next steps and face a new set of opportunities and challenges while pursuing their life goals. Congratulations to this group!



We recently completed our annual IRS reporting paperwork, which always catalyzes some thinking and reflecting about our achievements of the past year. 

We are in our ninth year of existence as one of the only organizations in Samburu focused exclusively on supporting youth through educational scholarships and supplementary training.  Supporting education is repeatedly shown in research to be the single greatest action for addressing poverty in the developing world, and all of the related challenges that come with it.

We keep an active tally of what our graduates are up to since finishing high school.  Consider these numbers:

  • 60 graduates since we started in December 2010: 31 young women and 29 young men.
  • 22 of our graduates are in a position to support other family members for their education, resulting in an additional 30 youth attending school from the support of our graduates.
  • As of this writing, 24 of our graduates are employed and 27 are either enrolled or completed post-secondary training.  SYEF does not provide support for post-secondary; these graduates have the ambition and problem-solving skills to seek and arrange funding for additional education.
  • Of our 60 graduates, 11 have children of their own  That is a remarkable number considering that in this part of the world most young people have at least one child prior to the age of most of our graduates.  Even more remarkable is that included in those 11 are a few young women who had children prior to even starting high school from forced marriage circumstances or similarly troubling situations. 
  • Our expense allocations are solid: 93% to programs, 6% to fundraising, and 1% to administration.

We definitely feel satisfied with these numeric outcomes, though we also are curious how formal education and our trainings influence these decisions, which is on our horizon for future evaluation work.


SYEF partners with women in Samburu to sell their beadwork online and at events in the United States. The organization purchases the items from the women based on labor and supplies, and then sells the items at a profit to raise money for our youth scholarships and leadership programming.  It’s a strategy by which we can invest in women’s income-generation and youth education, which are the two most important activities for achieving prosperity and alleviating poverty.

Based on follow-up evaluation with the women, the beadwork income helps with food and housing security, and at times provides opportunities for the women to invest in items that are beyond the basics of a household. Our primary women’s group partner for our beading program, the Unity Women’s Village, completed construction of a tourist hut for adventure-seeking travelers to Samburu. The women charge the equivalent of about $21 per person per night, and have had a modest but steady flow of visitors for a few months now.

The women built the tourist hut with funds generated primarily through the income they earned via their beading program with SYEF.  It was their own group decision-making that led to this reinvestment of a portion of the income into a venture that would generate additional revenue, and they have recouped their initial start-up costs already.

As Unity Womens Village continues to pursue a more consistent income, and one that is also less dependent on SYEF bead sales, we will bring additional women into our beading program, and hopefully have a similar effect with more individuals. We’ve added five additional women to the program, and will incrementally add more as we have the capacity and opportunities to sell more beadwork.  In the meantime, you can go to our Etsy site to purchase some of the items we sell.