I am embarrassed to admit this, but when I was first introduced to the work of Flying Kites in 2010, I had two strong objections to taking a meeting with them.
In the past, the projects that I have supported typically read like a business plan: one page can tell me that we are going to reduce the incidence and prevalence of an infectious disease, by a certain percent among a wide population, over an expansive region, within a predetermined time frame.
During my first meeting with the Kites (wait, who let them into the building?), I wondered out loud if their goal to “raise the level of care available to the world’s poorest children” was scalable. If you haven’t raised this question with the team, I encourage you to - their answer is passionate and daring and - I wouldn’t do it justice, but it is something along the lines of - “What could be more scalable than a child?” This was the first of two lessons I learned from their vision.
Over the years, I have had the opportunity to learn from many organizations close to my heart. Most recently, I was inspired by a newly-opened Partners in Health hospital in Haiti. More than inspired, I am in awe, really: the meticulously designed building, the thoughtful fishpond, the comprehensive treatment and the uncompromising commitment to excellence. This is a good hospital for anywhere in the world, this is not simply “a good hospital for Haiti.”
While I have been involved with global health initiatives for some years, I have to be honest - I had avoided traveling to places where I anticipated coming face-to-face with the suffering of children, in particular. This was my second objection: I adore children, my own, my friends’ kids, my nieces and nephews; I wasn’t sure I had the constitution to see children in ongoing emotional or physical pain. The Kites were pretty confident and convinced me to come meet the children they serve in Njabini. I was, of course, wholeheartedly won over by these curious and earnest kids. While these children certainly face challenges that others do not, they are so clearly thriving with the exemplary care that Flying Kites works tirelessly to deliver.
In the face of poverty and suffering and desperation, it is a challenge to resist watering down care for short-term results. My time in developing countries has helped me gain deep insights into efforts that seek to “break the cycle of poverty.” It’s an overused phrase and too many of us appear to be in a race to expand before we have truly affected outcomes.
Am I impressed by scalability? Absolutely. But I am also increasingly interested in understanding how meaningful each intervention is. You built 60 schools last year - terrific. Equally as important for me to understand is: what are your attendance rates; what do you pay your teachers and how do you measure progress? How many of your students will go on to high school? What is your school culture, your academic values? Your policy on bullying? What do you serve for lunch?
Essentially, how will this school or these 60 schools help to create a better future and ensure that your students’ children and their children’s children are not depending on international aid or charity? How will these efforts close the fractures of injustice?
To me, education is a path out of poverty. More than that, it is the key to poverty alleviation for generations and societies alike. Empowering vulnerable children to fix a system that failed them: this is the work of Flying Kites, and who better to build equitable infrastructure than those who have the most at stake? Having met the children who live and study at Flying Kites, I feel confident that they will become leaders in their families, communities and country. I believe they already are.
During my time in Njabini, Kenya, I was motivated to see orphaned, abused and previously-homeless children studying furiously under the guidance of private tutors and with access to high-quality services. This is the real nature of social justice work as I understand it. I want to work with organizations that make our world more just; through programs that give more people a fair chance to make their own luck. I look at hospitals and schools and I am driven by the question, “Would this be good enough for me? For my own mother? My children?”
I am proud of Flying Kites because they are taking their time. Educating children is a slow ROI and it seems their team has laid a strong foundation in the community of Njabini. This summer, I have been fortunate to have participated in numerous conversations as they plan for what is ahead. I want to be a part of that journey and I invite you to join me.