Kenya school launch celebrated as immigrant’s dream comes to fruition


WORCESTER — Unlike many immigrants who come to the United States with the sole desire of achieving the so-called American dream, Abdi Lidonde put aside thoughts of wealth and good fortune when he arrived in this country from Africa more than 35 years ago.

Instead, he got a night custodial job at the College of the Holy Cross and began a long-term plan to pull together enough money to construct a school for impoverished kids in his native homeland of Kenya.

Last January, with about 30 elementary students enrolling in the Beverly School, Mr. Lidonde accomplished what some in the beginning had felt might only be a quixotic quest.

“It is just wonderful,” said Mr. Lidonde, who lives with his family in Sutton.

The school is located on about 40 acres near the village of North Kinangop — about 60 miles northwest of Nairobi.

The facility is named after Mr. Lidonde’s mother, Beverly, who believed so much in education that she would walk her son to the St. Peter Clevers Catholic Primary School in Kenya’s Kakamega District, which was miles from the family village of Shikoho.

Mrs. Lidonde, who was ill for some time, died in 1999.

Mr. Lidonde was one of 26 children in an extended family.

His father, Elijah, was a postal service worker, who barely made enough to make ends meet.

However, despite what little they had, the Lidondes made sure that their son received a high school education.

After working for a while beside his father, Abdi Lidonde decided to come to the United States. He arrived at LaGuardia Airport in New York City with about $20 in his pocket.

He settled in Worcester, landed a job at Holy Cross, and enrolled at Worcester State College, where he eventually graduated with a history degree.

While working at Holy Cross, he began to talk about his project to some of the school’s administrators, whom he admired, including the Rev. John E. Brooks, president emeritus.

With their encouragement, he set up the Beverly Educational Corp., a 501(c) nonprofit, tax-exempt organization, and began fundraising.

In his spare time, he traveled around the country raising money for the school. His efforts paid off and he got support from a variety of sources ranging from college students to company executives.

Children get free education in Kenya, but few attend classes because their families can’t afford the associated costs, such as uniforms and books.

Poverty and diseases are rampant in Kenya, which is about the size of Texas, and which sits on the equator.

Most Kenyans live on about a couple of dollars a day; few live beyond the age of 50.

“Things are very difficult for the Kenyan people,” said Mr. Lidonde, who is a supervisor in the physical plant department at Holy Cross.

He said the Beverly School, which is a boarding school, will provide a healthy home environment for the pupils.

Mr. Lidonde, who has made at least 15 trips to Kenya since beginning his project, said at least $4.5 million has been raised for the school.

Rosemary Wolanski, a member of the school’s board of directors, said a lot of the money has been raised by area volunteers, who have sponsored dinners, raffles and home cocktail parties to help the effort.

The Beverly School has also received a lot of support at Mount St. James.

For example, Sarah Weinstein, a Nashua, N.H., resident who graduated from Holy Cross last spring, said that since 2008 a number of students from the college have joined the “Beverly Connector.”

Ms. Weinstein, who has served as co-chair for that campus group, said those students have held basketball tournaments, concerts and T-shirt sales to help the cause.

“So many people have been involved in helping out,” said Jacqueline Peterson, HC’s vice president of student affairs and dean of students, who noted that the college also made a significant donation to the Beverly School.

Mr. Lidonde said much still has to be done before the school is fully operational, but he said he’s very optimistic about its future.

He said the school was structured to be self-sustaining.

The facility, for example, is equipped with solar panels and has its own water source. The staff also raises fruits and vegetables on adjacent farmland and in school greenhouses.

Mr. Lidonde said he also wanted to make sure the school was on solid financial footing, so school-run businesses were established to generate money for its operation.

For example, a small hotel was built on campus to cater to tourists taking advantage of Kenya’s robust safari industry.

Also, some of the school’s farm acreage is set aside to grow barley, which is then sold to area breweries.

“We want to make sure the students will benefit for years to come,” explained Mr. Lidonde.

Abdi Lidonde, left, founder of the Beverly School, chats with former Miami Dolphin running back and Holy Cross graduate Eddie Jenkins, right, and his wife, Linda Jenkins. (T&G Staff/STEVE LANAVA)

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1 Comment
  1. Jon says

    ni ushenzi gani hiyo ya kusema ati few kenyans live beyond the age of 50.? JIHESHIMUNI. dont let people write such demented stupidity about our country.

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