|Megan Kelly, a St. Cecilia Academy alumna, co-founded the non-profit organization Tailored for Education, which provides uniforms to students in developing countries so they can continue their education. Students in the Mathare Valley, a slum outside Nairobi, Kenya, are measured for Tailored for Education uniforms. Photos courtesy of Megan Kelly, Tailored for Education
The children who live in the Mathare Valley, a slum outside of Nairobi, Kenya, do not have an easy life. They live with their families in overcrowded, makeshift metal shacks and play on mounds of trash-strewn dirt while wearing worn out shoes. Their clothes are tattered and ill-fitting.
With limited access to education, these children have a lot of idle time on their hands. The lucky few who do land a spot at one of the nearby government-run schools still face roadblocks, and one of those is procuring uniforms.
“We know uniforms can be a barrier to education and we want to eliminate one of the barriers to provide the best chance for these children,” said Megan Kelly, St. Cecilia Academy alumna and co-founder of Tailored for Education, a non-profit organization that strives to increase school enrollment in impoverished areas by providing children with school uniforms.
In places like the Methare Valley, a uniform is not just a uniform, but an investment in children’s success in school and in life.
Over the past year, Tailored for Education, in partnership with The Dignitas Project, has provided more than 1,200 uniforms to children in the Mathare Valley. Kelly’s Tailored for Education blog shows off photos of the Kenyan children, smiling brightly, wearing their vibrant green or purple uniforms and shiny black shoes.
“To have proper clothing that’s new and fits helps with concentration, drive and purpose,” said Kelly.
Before Tailored for Education began working in these communities, many of the children would be wearing worn out hand me downs or only part of a uniform. Maybe they would share with a sibling, and the two would alternate on the days they could each attend school.
|Kelly traveled to Rwanda over the summer to meet some of the students who benefitted from her organization’s donations.
“We want to try to eliminate the stop and start” nature of school attendance by providing uniforms, Kelly said.
While many people in the U.S. regard uniforms as “strictly a first world problem,” associating them exclusively with expensive private schools, that is simply not the case in developing countries around the world, Kelly said. Once Kelly learned that uniforms are required at most public schools throughout Latin America, Africa and Southeast Asia, she realized that “uniforms could keep children from receiving an education.” In countries where families live on $1 a day, they cannot afford to pay even a modest fee for the required school uniform.
In 2011 Kelly and her friend Jessica Roy set out to solve what they see as “a fixable problem” by starting Tailored for Education. Both women work at a private investment firm in Boston, but they sew as a hobby, and they thought they could make the uniforms at home and ship them overseas to schools in need. They quickly realized that the demand was too great for that simple solution, so they set about finding other ways to get uniforms into the hands of poor children thousands of miles away.
“Our best form of action is to work through other non-profits” who already have a presence and an existing relationship within a community, Kelly said. In addition to Dignitas in Kenya, Tailored for Education also works with Catholic Relief Services and other organizations in 10 different countries.
Their very first project was a partnership with the Nashville-based Parish Twinning Program of the Americas, which matches parishes in the U.S. with ones in Haiti. Kelly reached out to Cathedral of the Incarnation’s twinning program, and leaders of that parish’s Haiti ministry team helped link Kelly and Roy with their parish in La Vallee, Haiti. Kelly and Roy funded that first project with their own money, providing 200 children at Ecole St. Therese De La Voute with brand new uniforms. They completed a second round of funding in September 2012, providing uniforms for a total of 600 students at all three La Vallee parish schools.
Since then, the project has evolved, and women in Haiti now sew the uniforms for the students. Tailored for Education doesn’t just hand out uniforms to children in Haiti, it covers the cost of the raw materials, equipment and provides salaries for the Haitian seamstresses.
|Tailored for Education provides uniforms and shoes to children in developing countries who may not otherwise be able to attend school. The Boston-based Tailored for Education works with other non-profit organizations in 10 different countries get uniforms into the hands of needy school children. They try to work with village tailors and seamstresses whenever possible to boost the local economy.
“We thought if we could have them make the uniforms in Haiti, it would give them some self-worth and help the economy of Haiti,” said Sue Doyle, longtime member of Cathedral’s Haiti team, who oversees the uniform project.
The Cathedral has been working to move beyond the “Band-Aid treatment” of temporary fixes, choosing to focus more on long-term, sustainable solutions to the crushing poverty in Haiti. Employing local women to make the school uniforms is just one piece of this approach. “We’re not just dressing the children, we’re supporting the local economy,” Doyle said.
The uniforms made by local tailors, in turn, enable the children to attend school, which helps connect the dots between education and employment and is all part of the roadmap to greater self-sufficiency in Haiti.
“We want to provide as much business for the local economy as possible,” Kelly said, noting that the uniforms for the Mathare Valley children are made by a network of seamstresses in Nairobi. “We like to keep it in the village,” she said.
Kelly and Roy traveled to Rwanda this past summer to meet some of the students who have benefitted from their uniform donations. Through the Komera Project, Tailored for Education provided 75 girls in rural Rwanda with uniforms so they could pursue their secondary education.
“We got to meet quite a few of the girls. They were so driven, so grateful for their education,” Kelly said. “They really realize the value of hard work, that education is the only way to change their lives.”
More information about Tailored for Education is available at www.tailoredforeducation.org