While Brett Weiss makes a difference every day as an economics and international relations teacher at Bartlett High School, the Naperville resident almost kept himself from making a difference on a larger scale.
“I’m a pretty big chicken at heart,” he admitted.
He had returned to teaching after venturing into the business world for a time, and planned to have his summers off so he could travel.
But he couldn’t quite get past the excuses to keep himself home. Then, after a series of health scares Weiss finally realized he was going to miss out if he didn’t finally follow through.
He partnered with Village Volunteers, an organization based in Seattle that, according to its website, will pair people up for a volunteer placement abroad. While Weiss didn’t know where in Kenya he wanted to go, he was sent to Dago, a village of about 3,000 people where the average family income is $500 a year.
“On the plane home I thought about what a life-changing journey it was but I didn’t want to go back,” he said. “By the time the plane landed in Chicago, I thought ‘I have to go back there.’”
And so the Bernard and Elsie Weiss Dago Scholarship Fund was born.
Bernard and Elsie were Weiss’s parents. They died in 2005 and Weiss believed their dream for their children is exactly what he wanted to create in the scholarship fund.
“My parents grew up poor in Chicago and they couldn’t afford an education but they made sure all three of their boys went to college,” he said.
The funds are filtered through Village Volunteers and Weiss uses what is donated to pay for high school educations for the children in Dago. In Kenya, only 20 percent of children go to high school because the government only pays through eighth grade. For the children it means they will spend their lives working in the fields.
It costs $750 to send a child to high school boarding school. That includes the tuition, room and board, books, and uniforms. While Weiss wants the parents to contribute to their children in some way, asking them to buy items like toilet paper and toothbrushes, he knows that if it becomes a difficulty, he will take care of it.
Most of the residents live in a mud hut and they don’t always have the words to describe what life in the United State is like.
“One woman said, ‘Tell me about the mud huts in the United States,’” Weiss said. “Our poverty in the United States is almost like the middle class in Kenya.”
The schools don’t usually have the typical tools we expect here in the States. They don’t always have pens or books. The primary school in Dago is a mud hut with no electricity. There are holes in the metal room to allow the light in. Chalk is very expensive.
Girls are not usually encouraged to go to school; rather their families will suggest they stay home and learn to cook and clean.
“I don’t want to just give them money,” said Weiss. “I want to give them hope.”
Right now the fund is supporting 11 children and he hopes to add a few more by January when school starts. He will travel back to Kenya in 2015 to visit all the children, but in the meantime they are encouraged to write the people supporting them and Weiss gets copies of all their report cards.
Weiss is the exact reason that Jeri Rogowski started donated several years ago and continues to do so.
“Both of my kids had him as a teacher and my one son excelled under him,” she said. “I know his ethics and values.”
Rogowski was especially impressed that Weiss named the scholarship fund for his parents and how easy it was for her to make a difference.
“It takes so little money to make an impact,” she said of the kids in Kenya. “It’s an extremely worthy cause.”Tags: Good Cause, travel, Village Volunteers
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