Local history teacher James “Jim” Cummings has been cultivating youth empowerment locally and globally since 1987 and just recently opened the doors of Kijana Global Innovation School, a pre-primary and primary private school located in Western Kenya.
Fresh out of college, Cummings joined WorldTeach and landed on the other side of the world teaching English in Kenya. Shedding the comforts of first-world living, he lived and volunteered for 15 months with no electricity or running water and learned the value of cross-cultural dialogue and education, which mapped his journey for the last three decades.
Over the course of Cummings’ career as an educator, he taught at the Prairie School in Wisconsin, as well as the Benjamin School and Seminole Ridge High School here in Palm Beach County. He also earned his master’s degree in history and studied both African history and Kiswahili, the official language spoken in Kenya. Cummings’ continued studies expanded his knowledge of the continent’s rich history and afforded him the opportunity to develop a larger network of contacts in Africa to serve him in establishing the Kijana Educational Empowerment Initiative in 2002 with co-founder Bruce Huber.
Kijana is a nonprofit organization that has served a pivotal role in transforming education in Vihiga County in Western Kenya. With hundreds of thousands of dollars of investments, Kijana altered the educational trajectory and raised expectations of citizens by investing in more than 30 schools countrywide. Partnerships and funding support from Palm Beach County community members transformed a few Kenyan schools from dilapidated remains to burgeoning institutions.
Kijana’s vision, driven by a diverse board of directors, continues to enliven the educational experiences of global youth so that more of the hundreds of millions of young people who need greater and more creative educational opportunities will find them. With this goal in mind, the nonprofit launched a capital campaign in May 2019 to build a modern pre-k through 12th-grade independent school, the Kijana Global Innovation School (KGIS), to serve highly talented Kenyan youth.
To fulfill this vision, local philanthropists Stephanie and John Pew stepped forward with a large leading donation to support Kijana. “After giving $100,000 initially, we gave another $100,000 six months later. We were so moved in recognizing how many students the new Kijana School will benefit for so little compared to wealthy countries, and how much Kenyan students and families appreciate it,” the Pews said.
In 2019, $310,000 was raised and the school opened its doors in January 2020 with 15 students. By March 2020, 28 students were enrolled, and then the entire country shut down due to the global pandemic. During the shutdown, the Kijana team made huge advances in the physical development of the school. KGIS re-opened in January 2021 with 54 students in pre-k through sixth grade. Today, enrollment is around 84 students and climbing.
This new school serves students in Kakamega, Vihiga and Siaya counties, which have a combined population of three million people.
There is still work to be done. Kijana has set a goal to raise $450,000 in 2021, and the nonprofit is about one-third of the way there. A new campaign will raise money to build a library/media center in addition to the need for more classrooms, technological resources, books, a dining area, increased staff, sports fields and a playground. “Human society suffers as significant human capital is underutilized and unfulfilled by our traditional socio-economic and global educational systems,” Cummings said. “The inaugural Kijana Global Innovation School invests creatively and energetically in this underutilized global human capital, improving our collective global well-being. Their expanded opportunity will be the world’s gain as these young people fulfill their academic, social and creative promise, becoming positive world change-makers.”
For more information, or to provide financial support, visit www.kijana.org.