Laguna Beach High School teacher Jun Shen didn't anticipate the friendship he formed when he visited a Kenyan tribal village in August.
After a safari with his fiance, they visited Oloolaimutia, a village outside their camp inhabited by the Maasai tribe, and were able to tour a school there.
The staff told him that children walk barefoot to school — some living as far as nine miles away. There are 685 students with nine teachers, he said. The roads are rural and unpaved, and some teachers have to travel up to 65 miles to get to a computer. Instructors earn about $1,000 a year.
Although Shen didn't have much money, he told one of the teachers, Gladys Kiu, that he was dedicated to give back somehow.
Shen retold the story to his students, and the Model United Nations group he runs urged him to create a foundation to raise money for the Kenyan school. The Laguna Beach Unified School District created the Model United Nations Foundation, and Shen hopes to raise funds for the school and start a pen-pal program with the students there.
The female villagers are largely uneducated — Shen pegged the statistic as high as 95% — and they earn money through the intricate jewelry such as bracelets they make and other handmade crafts.
"They really have no economic output other than tourism," he said.
The tribe's prosperity is also important to the school. It employs three out of the nine teachers, while the Kenyan government pays the salaries of the rest.
Shen wants to have their bracelets shipped here to sell, and then ship back the profit . He's still working that out.
"They're really beautiful, and I foresee a large market here," he said.
The other three schools are interested in helping out. Top of the World Elementary School Principal Ron LaMotte wants the Kindness and Caring club to get involved, perhaps sending kindness links out to the children in Kenya.
"Let's take it beyond our local borders, outside Laguna Beach," LaMotte said.
El Morro Elementary School Principal Chris Duddy suggested letter writing, and Model United Nations has been brought to the middle school, Shen said.
Shen and Kiu hope to get the pen-pal program going before December, he said.