Just five years ago, Sarah Boyer and Phil Boyer held lucrative jobs. And they even enjoyed them.
But, the Grafton couple thought, something was missing. “We decided there was more to life,’’ she said.
So they left their jobs and, living off their savings, moved to Tanzania to help open a primary school.
“It was life-changing,’’ she said of the experience.
The lives they changed weren’t just their own.
Today, inspired by the experience and enriched by contacts they made in Africa, they operate a school for children in KoKoth Kateng, near Lake Victoria in western Kenya. Thirty children now receive an education, and daily hot meals through their foundation, Open Hearts and Minds Foundation.
Through their experiences in Africa, they learned that portions of Kenya are wracked with poverty.
The area was “ravaged by HIV/AIDS.’’ And then there were the tragic results of drought.
“In Kenya, if there is no rain, there is no water. The crops die, the animals die and eventually, the people die,’’ she said.
And education was limited. Although government-sponsored education was free, “it was free with inverted commas around it,’’ she said. Families were required to pay for uniforms, pencils, books and even exams.
The couple realized “we couldn’t help everyone.’’ But they wanted to make a difference in as many lives as they could.
So she and her husband, along with a friend from the area in Kenya, decided to start a school, which they named the Open Hearts and Minds School. With support from family and friends, they initially funded the education of 10 children, ages 5 and 6, who would otherwise not be able to go to school.
Fund-raising efforts allowed them to support another class in 2011 and they will have a third class in January, bringing the number of students to 30. They hired teachers and cooks, who ensure the children have not only a good education, but also a hot meal, in many cases the only one they will have all day.
“It’s just amazing,’’ she said. “They’re doing amazing things.’’
Today, back in the United States, she spends her time on the foundation while her husband works at Lonza Biologics in Hopkinton.
They have a new dream: To build a brand new, and larger, school building. They are quickly outgrowing the former church that a resident of the area generously allowed them to use.
Raising money for this effort, they decided, would take an outreach effort. So Boyer, who loves crafts and is creative by nature, decided to make glass bead bracelets.
She sells them at craft fairs for $16 each. They are also sold at Sparkleberrys Home and Garden, a consignment craft shop in Northbridge.
Funds are also raised through the sale of bags, which are created by a Kenyan woman they met while living in the area. The bulk of those profits, though, go to the woman, who is now able to better provide for her family and to take them to the doctor when they are sick.
Boyer works tirelessly in her Grafton home, looking to make contacts and reach out to other organizations. And she also visits the school whenever she can.
The youngsters initially only spoke the tribal language of their village. But now they are learning Swahili and English, the country’s official business and education language.
Learning these languages gives them a better chance of escaping poverty and finding work that will sustain them and their families, she said.
So she was touched when youngsters stood by a map of Africa and named the countries, in English.
“I had a hard time choking back the tears,’’ she said. “I got goosebump-y.’’
For more information on the foundation, and about purchasing the products, contact Sarah Boyer at firstname.lastname@example.org.