Retired SWR teacher brings 25K books to Kenya


In a digital era dominated by tablets and iPhones, the opportunity to simply read a book remains a luxury in areas of the world like Kenya.

So when Kevin Mann and his wife, Aida, made their eighth trip to the East African country last month, they brought plenty of extra luggage to help address that problem. Mr. Mann, a retired Shoreham-Wading River social studies teacher, filled a large shipping container with nearly 25,000 children’s books and 27 refurbished laptops.

The books, which were donated from Wading River Elementary School and the now-closed Briarcliff Elementary School, were distributed to about 10 Kenyan schools.

Mr. Mann, who is vice president of the nonprofit Hope Children’s Fund, said one of the schools that benefited from the donation was the Gikumene Primary School. The orphans who reside at the organization’s Jerusha Mwiraria Hope Children’s Home in Meru, Kenya, happen to attend that particular facility.

R0317_kenya2_NS_C.jpg“It brought so much happiness to so many children,” Ms. Mann said.

Mr. Mann said the books will enhance the primary curriculum in the Kenyan public school system. Each classroom, he said, has between 45 and 60 students. The rooms are set up with benches, with two to three students sharing the same book. Now, they can read individually or even take materials home.

“It changes the way English is taught because it’s done outside the classroom,” Mr. Mann said, though he noted that the system has not yet been perfected.

The Manns traveled with two other couples — Peter and Janet Wunsch, who mentor a Kenyan girl named Edith, and Tom and Barbara Lyon, who volunteer with the national Heifer Project.

In addition to books, the Manns brought 27 refurbished laptops donated by Eastern Suffolk BOCES. Five of the computers were used to create a media room at the Jerusha Mwiraria home, while the remainder were given to local schools.

The school day in Kenya extends from 4:30 a.m. to 8 p.m., with students going home once for tea and again for lunch. Mr. Mann said primary school became free in 2002, but secondary school and universities are still expensive. In addition, students need to pass a national test to be accepted.

Through the Hope Children’s Fund, the Manns aim to provide the children who have become a second family to them with opportunities to pursue additional schooling.

“We’re not just raising money for a faceless charity,” Mr. Mann said. “It’s people we can call by name.”

Captions: Top: Children in Kenya with donated books from the Briarcliff and Wading River elementary school libraries (courtesy photo). Right: Kevin Mann, who recently retired from Shoreham-Wading River High School after 40 years of teaching, and his wife, Aida, traveled to Kenya in February (Nicole Smith photo).