An American teacher named Brett Weiss, decided to travel to the village of Dago, Kenya, in 2009 along with a group from Seattle called Village Volunteers.
With a passion for both the powers of education and history, Weiss always felt himself drawn to helping those in need of support in Africa. However, since surviving his diagnosis of thyroid cancer, he felt determined to make the trip.
“At the end of my life, I did not want to look back at a list of things I had wanted to do but didn’t because I kept coming up with weak excuses,” Weiss wrote in “Just Give Them a Hug … And the Rest Will Be Easy,” a book he wrote documenting his experiences and travels.
Despite his efforts Weiss doesn’t aim to be perceived as a saviour of sorts.
“I could not just get on a plane and fly to someplace in Africa, get off the plane and upon arrival say, ‘OK, the white guy is here to help you!’” he explained. “‘Just tell me what I can do for you!’”
Weiss’ primary focus was to help support schools, volunteering and working alongside local educators in order to create curriculums and lesson structures incorporating a mention of Chicago’s own history as well as world geography.
Weiss noted how blown away he was by the warmth from his encounters, beauty, as well as an overpowering sense of need.
“There were times I would just go in a room and close the door and cry for a while,” Weiss stated during his interview.
Upon returning to the states, Weiss created the fund called the Bernard and Elsie Weiss Dago Scholarship, honouring his parents with the use of their name with hopes of raising money towards the students of Dago, giving them the ability to remain in school all the way through to high school. Since beginning, his fund has helped 32 students sponsored with four year scholarships.
“If you’re going to turn around poverty,” he says, “people have to get an education.”
Weiss also stated that girls in particular face countless obstacles in the pursuit of education.
“When girls get their period, they have to stay home from school,” Weiss explained. “Then they fall behind. It’s a society that’s still very male-dominated.”
This now retired teacher and wife Christine, also volunteer their time to help give back to the Chicagoland area and community.