The Rafiki Thabo Foundation

Here at the Yurt we are always trying different designs and layouts. We really try to make the most of our unique space. One of our recent additions is the reading corner, where you can sip on a delicious hot drink while enjoying a good read. However, like most things within Nicholson’s, this library isn’t just here to offer some light reading, but to support a charity held close to our hearts.

So how did the Rafiki Thabo Foundation come to be?

Rafiki Thabo was set up in 2006 by Jon Uglow who had spent a year living amongst a rural community in Kenya.  Jon saw the huge struggle faced by so many people to get an education that would enable them to obtain employment and thereby embrace opportunities for individual and community development.  It was their poverty was holding them back, not their abilities.  What started off as money sent to friends to support their children through school gradually grew to something more structured and formal, a UK registered charity based in Oxfordshire but working in Uganda, Kenya and Lesotho. 

What does the Rafiki Thabo Foundation do?

Rafiki Thabo aims to support individuals and their communities through education, enabling them to reach their full potential through a variety of practical means. The main focus is the Rafiki Scholars Program, where over 180 young people who have applied and been selected by their in-country committees, gain access to secondary and tertiary education. Rafiki Thabo partners the scholars, paying all tuition fees directly to the institutions leaving them only to find money for living expenses – but if that proves prohibitive, they step in there too.

The ‘Eat Well to Learn’ program is an example of this: Rafiki Thabo pays for 70 of the poorest students (tragically, most of these are AIDS orphans) at a secondary school in Uganda to have a hot meal daily – that’s over 12,000 meals a year!  The school’s headmaster Benon has commented that the meals have not only improved attendance, focus in class and academic performance, they have also literally saved lives.  For the students, it is their only meal of the day.

Supporting education involves supporting projects in towns and villages too – building up school infrastructure such as toilet blocks in Lesotho, piggeries in Uganda, and currently Rafiki Thabo is refurbishing a special needs classroom in a primary school high up in the Taita hills of Kenya.

One thing unites all the projects: Rafiki Thabo seeks in all areas to increase both the access and the quality of education, recognising it as the key factor in individual and societal development.

How did Nicholsons (and the Yurt) become involved with the Rafiki Thabo Foundation?

Nicholsons from the start has been keen on supporting charities, particularly those whose focus is on education.  Thirty-odd years ago, Roderick Nicholson spent some time establishing tree nurseries and forest plantations in Kenya, so when Jon Uglow talked to Liz and Niel about Rafiki Thabo not long after it was established, it seemed a natural fit, especially as there was opportunity for Nicholson employees to get actively involved in the work. 

So, how has Nicholson’s helped?

Well, most recently is the new library corner in the Yurt where books are for sale, with all proceeds going to the foundation.  However, there is much more besides – we’ve had teams out to Africa with Rafiki Thabo twice, each time completing a different project.

During the first visit, Nicholsons’ staff helped to build a small plant nursery with the aim that trees grown would provide some much needed shade and replenish the natural flora and fauna of an area which has suffered deforestation and all the environmental issues that go with that.  A big part of the visit was championing the environment and it has worked – the local Bishop loved the idea of the nursery so much that he has gifted a tree to every school and church he has visited since, literally preaching the importance of planting trees.

The second trip earlier this year was even more hands-on, with Nicholson’s staff building a chicken enclosure for a secondary school out of mud bricks.  The idea was that the school could benefit from fresh eggs and meat to supplement the otherwise limited diet of the boarding pupils, selling any excess to help keep fees low.  On a day-to-day basis, the chicken enclosure also allows the children to learn about aspects of farming and how to properly care for animals – it was after all,  built to the highest standards!

Finally, we support Rodah, a young lady who is training to become a teacher in Mombasa.  Rodah is one of eight children born to a family who subsistence farm.  Without our intervention via Rafiki Thabo, there is no way she would be able to train for a professional career.  She would by now have been married off for the best dowry the family could receive in order that her younger brothers could continue their education… the choices are stark, and the difference our support makes enormous – which is why we like getting involved!