In the tiny remote village of Okela, Kenya, high school girls walk two to three miles to school. The trek can be dangerous, sometimes deadly.
They travel through fields and wooded areas, and along paved and unpaved roads. If they have enough money, sometimes they take a bus for part of the trip.
It’s not safe. The girls risk their lives seeking an education.
“One of the 14-year-old students was beaten, raped and killed while trying to get to school,” said Laura Schanz, a consultant and deputy CEO of Impact Kenya Initiative (IKI).
That risk was one of the reasons Flagger Force president and co-founder Michele Doner traveled to Kenya in late August and early September. She sought to help the community and the dozens of teens who want to attend Okela High School. The Flagger Force Foundation has pitched in funds for the construction of a girl’s dormitory.
“It will house 50 young women (mostly high school), which will give them a safe place to live and learn at the same time,” Doner said.
The dorm eliminates the girl’s trek to school, so they can concentrate on their education.
Work, friendships leads to Africa
Schanz’s personal and professional relationship with Doner helped to convince the Flagger Force leader to make the two-week mission trip to Kenya.
Doner and four others, including her sister, Cindy Mellen, taught leadership and management, assisted with a medical clinic and were able to see the dorm’s construction’s progress during the 2-week trip.
“We hope the girls can be in the dorm by January,” Schanz said.
A life-learning trip
Flagger Force is a private company headquartered in Swatara Township.
It employs more than 1,700 people and provides temporary traffic control services in work zones throughout the Mid-Atlantic. The company was also ranked No. 50 in Central Penn Business Journal’s Top 100 private companies this year with revenue of $59.73 million. It also made the CPBJ’s Top 50 Fastest Growing Company’s list.
In 2011, the company started the Flagger Force Foundation, which benefits employees through a scholarship fund and an employee hardship fund. It also gives to causes most favored by the company: education and health.
The foundation gave Doner the opportunity to give back, while the company’s leadership structure enabled Doner to leave the country for two weeks.
“That’s how I got to go to Kenya,” she said. “There were five of us that went. It wasn’t a big group, but it was a life-learning mission trip for me.”
Taking the risk
Schanz met Doner through consulting work with Flagger Force. Schanz has taken the Africa trek several times during the past six years. Over time she persuaded Doner to come along, working with the Impact Kenya Initiative.
The initiative and school setting in Okela is similar and modeled after the Milton Hershey School in Derry Township, Schanz said. The school aims to provide a sustainable culture and empower local leaders.
“Health, environment (power, light, fuel and reforestation) and education are a part of this initiative,” she said.
Doner’s company and giving initiatives paired well with IKI, Schanz said.
“Flagger Force is a value-driven company. Michele helps to drive and communicate that,” Schanz said. “She took a risk and traveled thousands of miles – 17 hours in a plane –to communicate that.”
January completion date
The Flagger Force Foundation raised $10,000 to build the dorm. Water and sewer hookups are next. The girls will be able to move into the dorm by the end of December or early January, Schanz said.
High school education for girls in Kenya is modeled after boarding school. Girls who meet academic standards are sent to school, with the dorms being key to the girls’ safety and security.
Doner expected to help with the construction when she arrived in Kenya, but it wasn’t needed. The construction was mostly completed. She said officials and students were content to share their progress with the group.
The trip also saw the group serve in a medical clinic for village residents and train other professional and industry leaders in coaching and management.
“We had about 34 people in the class. It was very engaging,” Doner said. “At first they were skeptical because they weren’t used to this type of training. They were never asked to come into a (classroom) with other leaders. It’s all been training within their own company.”
We are so blessed
In recalling the trip, Doner said she was ready give back overseas, but the people of Kenya gave her so much more.
“The children are so happy,” she said. She’d return to Kenya if given the opportunity.
“Go back? I’d like to, especially when the dormitory is finished,” she said. “God willing, I may go back in a couple years.”
But plenty of work can also be done at home, she added. “Keeping the communities moving is part of our slogan. There are so many things that can be done right here.”
Doner also wants to see the Flagger Force Foundation expand.
“I don’t want it to be just Michele. I want it to be the Flagger Force team and really focusing on education, health,” she said. “It’s important for (the public) to know that we care and it’s not just about making money for our pockets. We are so blessed. Let’s help those that aren’t.”
At a glance:
Impact Kenya Initiative: A not-for-profit organization founded in 2013 by Dr. Amos Otedo with the mission to break the cycle of poverty and improve the lives of people living in Kenya.
Laura Schanz: senior consultant for Laura Schanz Consulting Associates LLC in Lancaster.
Michele Doner: president and co-founder of Flagger Force.