SNOHOMISH – Dutch Hill Elementary students helped build a school in a small Kenyan village six years ago. One of the students, now 17, hopes to open a library there next year.
Isabelle Strehle came up with the idea after talking with a girl named Margaret.
They wrote each other letters that traveled across the Atlantic Ocean. Strehle would ask what life was like in Kenya and how Margaret’s family was doing.
Margaret’s story is similar to many young women living in a town called Kabaa. The 16-year-old had to leave school and work instead.
Both of Margaret’s parents died when she was younger. Her grandparents farm to care for Margaret and her two brothers. They live off of what they grow, but a recent drought had strained their crops.
Strehle and her mother, Amber, were looking for ways to provide learning opportunities to young people like Margaret.
They started with Strehle’s fifth-grade fundraiser in 2011.
Her class at Dutch Hill Elementary collected donations that were used to buy bricks at 5 cents apiece. Those bricks created one of the walls of a new school in a village called Mulundi.
Strehle and her classmates learned that a little can go a long way.
Each of the fifth-graders were paired up with a student in Kenya. That’s when Strehle met Margaret from afar as pen pals. As they got older, the girls exchanged emails monthly. Strehle’s family helped Margaret pay her school fees so that she could study.
Now, as a senior at Snohomish High School, Strehle is pulling together funding for a new library in a neighboring town. She’s working with an organization called Books and Bricks, which headed the construction of the school in Mulundi.
Strehle has been writing grants and talking with people in the community about the project since August. The goal is to raise $8,000. Strehle also is hoping to collect 500 books to fill the shelves.
The organization has already sent over textbooks and a few classics, such as “Little Women” and “Moby Dick.” Strehle plans to share the Harry Potter series.
There is a great need for the library.
Children currently have at least an hour walk to the nearest library. The new building would be located near the school.
A portion of the money Strehle hopes to raise is earmarked for a water tank. Children receive one meal during the school day. The water is used for drinking, to make food and clean dishes. Women in the village often are tasked with hauling in the water supply to fill the tanks.
Construction on the library is expected to start soon. Strehle is looking forward to seeing the finished building in July when she visits.
She also hopes to finally see her friend Margaret.
“She’s my motivation,” Strehle said.