By Joe Ombuor
Meet a couple with a runaway passion to equip Africa’s poverty-riddled children with affordable quality education.
Dr Shannon May and her husband, Jay Kimmelman, are the brains behind Bridge International Academies, a low-cost educational centre that aims at narrowing the gap between education for the majority poor and the minority rich, hence the term ‘bridge’.
The novel idea came to them half a world away in China where Shannon and Jay lived with poor families in Liaoning province. Here, she says, houses had no running water, and no indoor toilets.
“We ate silk worms, wild frogs, forest fruits and whatever we would grow in the family garden, using manure made from our own dung as fertiliser,” she says.
Shannon, an anthropologist and expert in organisational and social issues, was at the time doing research on economic and environmental development for her PhD programme back home in the US where she was a student at the University of California, Berkeley.
“I saw impoverished families thrown into a vicious cycle of more and more poverty because they could not afford quality education for their children, who were left with little or no opportunity to improve their lot and that of their families.
“That made me think of my own lowly background where, although we led a comparatively better life, I would not have made it to Harvard for my first degree if I did not benefit by going to a quality school courtesy of a highly subsidised educational system.
“Even as I researched for my thesis in this remote Chinese village, where I also taught English at a village school, the issue of quality education and its role in alleviating poverty preoccupied my mind,” she adds.
She continues: “Together with Jay, who then was my boyfriend and was living with me in China, we decided to find a way to provide quality education to children from poor backgrounds. We had established the problem was greatest in sub-Saharan Africa.