WISER Nearing Completion of Expansion

Funded by #StartSmall LLC, WISER is nearing completion of a major expansion of its campus and community hub in Muhuru Bay, Kenya, adding a library, additional dormitories, classrooms, and WASH facilities, as well as upgrading the water system that serves the surrounding area. By 2024, WISER will expand our student capacity by 50% and serve up to 10,000 more individuals with clean water.

Download Our 2021 Annual Report HERE

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Kenyan Schools to Remain Closed Until 2021

Dear Treasured WISER Partners and Friends,

On Tuesday, July 7th, the Kenyan Ministry of Education and President Uhuru Kenyatta announced their decision to keep all Kenyan learning institutions closed until January 2021 due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. While the WISER team recognizes the hardships this decision presents to our students who must now remain away from their campus and home away from home for the remainder of the year, we applaud the level of consideration of students’ health and safety that led to this announcement.

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For the WISER Girls, the next six months will be an unprecedented experience as they wait to rejoin their friends, teachers, and mentors on campus at the start of the new year. We are saddened by this loss of an academic year and by the continued challenges girls and their families will face.

But WISER has been supporting our students and responding to the pandemic since the first confirmed case in March – and we aren’t stopping now.

Our board members and staff in Kenya and in the US are collaborating on a new plan to respond to this announcement. We expect to extend our ongoing COVID-19 relief programs, which include the provision of non-perishable food, sanitary items, and face masks to hundreds of WISER families, through the end of the year.

We also expect to remain committed to our at-home education programs that have allowed girls to remain in touch with their teachers and complete academic work through the use of smartphones. This distance-based academic work entails more than just assignments and content review, as our teachers serve as a reliable source of mentorship and comfort throughout this turbulent time. With these programs in place, WISER girls will return to campus in the new year ahead of the curve, having already worked with their dedicated teachers to cover and review the majority of the year’s curriculum.

In January, all WISER Girls will be welcomed back to campus to restart the academic year they intended to complete in 2020. There will be no new entering class of girls in 2021 for WISER. Instead, we will be welcoming back the first-year girls who had their year cut short by the closing of our campus in March. All fourth-year students who were scheduled to complete their national exams in 2020 will instead repeat their year and complete exams in 2021, allowing them to begin their post-secondary journeys in 2022. We will not turn any girl away due to changes in circumstance that arise due to this extended separation from the resources and support of the WISER campus and we will work to replicate this support beyond our school’s walls. We look forward to once again having a bustling campus filled with brilliant, driven young women as soon as the conditions allow.

For now, our priority is to keep our students engaged and empowered, our staff employed and supported, and our community healthy and valued. The next six months will present unique challenges and opportunities for all of us. We look forward to sharing those with you as next steps begin to take shape.

Gratefully,
The WISER Team

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How we’re extending COVID-19 relief to essential WISER staff

From the very beginning, WISER has done things differently. Where many nonprofits like WISER rely on top-down leadership, WISER has been led by community members from the start. The choices WISER makes come directly from the needs and desires voiced by our students, staff, and their communities.

Our commitment to doing things differently hasn’t changed with the onset of COVID-19. We are not only among a minority of peer institutions that are continuing education remotely, but are part of an even smaller group of organizations committed to meeting our students’ health and wellness needs, too.

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That’s why, when our students told us how scarce food was becoming in Muhuru Bay, we organized a campaign to provide three month’s worth of food and soap for every WISER family in need. We trusted that, when we reached out to the Global WISER family and asked for their support, you all would respond in kind. But we never could have predicted how incredibly generous a response we’d receive.

We met our $12,000 goal in less than a week. So, in the spirit of an organization–and a global network of supporters–who do things differently, we’re extending our goal to cover even more members of our WISER family.

WISER has a total of 18 support staff outside of our amazing network of teachers and academic administrators. These dedicated people provide campus security, technical support in our labs, food preparation, campus maintenance, and support for students. In normal times, they are the gears that keep the WISER machine moving. They do everything: patrolling the campus, registering and recording guests, maintaining our generator, repairing teacher homes, monitoring the community water system, preparing three meals and a morning tea for 240 girls every day, printing and copying, laundry, tending to gardens, monitoring the septic system, replacing light bulbs, running errands, driving staff to events, and so much more. Many of them are deeply connected to the WISER family. They are parents of WISER students, members of the family that sold WISER the land for the school, spouses of community leaders who helped WISER get off the ground. These are deep, deep ties that we’re extraordinarily proud of, and they are absolutely essential to keeping us afloat, now more than ever.

Security staff help students get to campus freely and safely, and store and protect the non-perishable goods for the relief packages. Maintenance staff order, pick up, package, and distribute the relief packages. Kitchen staff prepare food for on-campus workers and facilitate re-distribution of existing supplies. Alumni interns communicate with students via WhatsApp and deliver physical academic materials to students who need them.

In short, none of the support we give to our students would be possible without WISER’s staff. For every relief package that arrives into WISER girls’ hands, WISER has a vast network of people supporting students during the pandemic, and they are the same people who support students every day during a normal school year. Now, we need your help to support the supporters.

We are committed to keeping our entire staff employed, but we need your help to do it. We’re adding an extra $7,000 to our goal: enough to cover the salaries of our support staff for the next two months. This $7,000 will ensure that all the essential operations at WISER–from the septic tanks and water system, to building cleaning and repairs–are able to keep happening despite the pandemic. It will also ensure that the rest of our COVID-19 relief packages will make their way to students, and that our staff members will be able to continue putting food on the table for their families.

And because we believe so strongly in the global WISER family’s ability to meet this new goal, we’re offering matching funds of up to $1,500! That means, when you give to WISER right now, you’re doubling your impact toward keeping everyone in the WISER community safe, healthy, and fed during the pandemic.

In a time of global loss and stress, you have responded with incredible generosity. We trust that you will help us extend our support to include even more members of our family, knowing that when we do, we are living into our mission to care and uplift one another.

Join us today:https://wisergirls.networkforgood.com/

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Everything you need to know about COVID-19 relief at WISER

All over the world, communities are grappling with the effects of the global COVID-19 pandemic. Strict measures to contain the virus, such as closing schools, markets, and nonessential businesses, imposing stay-at-home orders and curfews, and shutting down international borders are deeply necessary. But as we have seen in many communities, these measures reveal existing disparities and create new challenges for families like unemployment, inadequate healthcare, and increasingly, food insecurity.

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Job opportunities, which were scarce already, have all but disappeared. Muhuru Bay is based on a fishing economy due to its location near Lake Victoria, but most fishing takes place at night, when insects and the fish that feed on them can be lured to boats with small lights. However, due to the pandemic, 7pm curfews have been put in place, preventing any night fishing, and putting dozens, if not hundreds, of fishing boats at risk of losing nearly all of their income.

Even if residents have money for food, there is not enough food to go around. Muhuru Bay is located in the westernmost part of the country, in a remote area that is hard to reach by car and air travel. Muhuru Bay residents usually cross the border to Tanzania where supplies are more affordable or shop at local open-air markets. These avenues have been closed or dramatically limited by social distancing measures.

This leaves WISER students and their families in a dire position.

And this is where WISER – and you! – come in. We heard from students that their families are struggling to put food on the table every day. We believe that no one in this community should go hungry. So while we will adhere to and respect national and international policies for containing the virus, we are quickly, safely, and intentionally redistributing our existing resources and procuring new ones to ensure that our students and their families have what they need to survive, right now.

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Under the leadership of WISER’s principal, Madame Dorcas, campus security staff (the only staff still on campus) have pivoted to begin distributing relief packages containing over 20 pounds of non-perishable food staples, including maize, flour, sugar, and beans, as well as hand soap. Girls receive free transportation to campus and come in small groups to maintain social distancing. You can find Madame Dorcas’s video message to the WISER community about the processhere.

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Over 150 girls have already received enough food products to sustain them and their families for the next month, and we committed to provide all WISER girls with these resources for the next three months.

But we can’t get food into the hands of WISER girls without the help of the global WISER family. We need to raise a total of $12,000 in the next two weeks in order to provide WISER girls and their families with life-sustaining resources for the next three months.

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Each relief package, which contains a month’s worth of food staples to support a family, costs just $25. That means that a $75 donation will cover relief packages for one WISER family for the next three months. $150 will cover the next three months of relief for two students; $600—half of a US stimulus check—three months of relief for eight students. And with $1,500, we can help feed an entire class of WISER girls and their families for an entire month.

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These are not theoretical people or theoretical numbers. Your donation means more bars of soap in more hands, more steaming black beans on more plates, and the comfort of knowing that the WISER family is staying true to its mission to invest in girls and their communities

Please join us HERE

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WISER International welcomes two new team members

The past few months have held tremendous global upheaval. Here at WISER, students and staff have adjusted to a remote learning curriculum, and they are looking forward to the day when they’ll be back on campus to learn and grow together. But amid the disruptive changes brought by COVID-19, we’re happy to announce a very joyful change in WISER International’s leadership!

This month, WISER International has hired two incredible change-makers to our senior leadership team. Michelle Gherardi comes to us as our new Operations Manager, and Emily Dake is joining us as our new Development Manager.

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Michelle has nearly 20 years of experience in non-profit operations and fiscal development. She holds a Master of Public Administration from West Chester University where she is currently pursuing her doctorate in the same field and focusing her research on policies that impact motherhood and maternal activism. Michelle also holds a BA from the Harvard University Extension School and an Associate’s Degree from Harrisburg Area Community College, both of which are in the field of International Relations. Michelle’s personal, professional, and academic pursuits bring people together to intentionally engage in educational and motivational dialogue about social justice issues to develop effective strategies that actively champion and protect human rights.

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Emily Dake has a decade of experience in nonprofit operations and development, and currently runs a successful grant writing consulting business for community-based organizations in New York City and the Hudson Valley. She will soon receive her Master of Public Health degree with a concentration in Health Behavior at the Gillings School of Global Public Health at UNC Chapel Hill, where she has also been engaged in development initiatives. In addition to development, Emily specializes in qualitative analysis, the social determinants of health, and accessible program planning and implementation. Emily brings to the table a wide range of skills, including nuanced internal and external communications, creative and energetic staff management, exceptional writing and editing, and a clear and demonstrated passion for social justice. She has a Bachelor’s degree in English from Vassar College, and has received domestic violence training from CONNECT Training Institute as well as Rape Crisis Advocacy certification from Bellevue Hospital Department of Social Work. She now calls Asheville, NC home with her 8-year-old rescue pup Petey.

We know that Michelle and Emily will bring energy and expertise to our work. We are so glad to have them on the WISER Team!

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WISER International welcomes two new team members

After years of tireless preparation, WISER’s Class of 2019 sat for their KCSE (Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education) exams at the end of last year. They were nervous, of course; this exam not only determines students’ acceptance to higher education programs, but also determines their access to scholarships. But the WISER Girls were prepared. They knew that they had everything necessary to succeed.

And now the results are in: the Class of 2019 excelled, continuing WISER’s tradition of excellence in academics for yet another year!

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You read it right–all members of the Class of 2019 passed their exams with flying colors. Each of their scores qualified them for higher education programs, which means that all students graduating WISER this year have the opportunity to enter a certificate program, a professional course, or a four-year university degree.

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Not only that, but over half of the class earned scores that automatically qualified them for financial support in their next academic steps. These scholarships go to the best of the best students in Kenya; only 18% of the students who take the KCSE across the nation will qualify. But over half of WISER’s graduating class is on their way to university, tuition-free.

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And while global and cultural stereotypes still exist surrounding women’s aptitude for STEM, WISER girls continue to exceed expectations and thrive in science and math. For a phenomenal fourth year, physics was one of the students’ top subjects, and WISER girls are mightier than ever in STEM.

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The best news of all about this class is that they are not an anomaly. Their success is part of a tradition of academic excellence at WISER. WISER proves that when students have access to engaged teachers, resourced classrooms, and a supportive psychosocial environment, they have everything they need not only to succeed, but to thrive.

We could not be prouder of these students!

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