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Our Mission


Our Mission


Our mission is simple and focused: to help educate the children of nomadic families in northeastern Samburu.

Our organization is based on a commitment to being goal-oriented, accountable, and highly effective. We establish clear objectives, put measurements in place to monitor them, and take corrective action immediately to ensure we always remain on track.

We are a 100% volunteer-run organization that has come together to help the Samburu realize their dream of educating their children. We have no administrative overhead, so donations directly reach the children of Samburu. The Thorn Tree Project is a registered 501c3 nonprofit organization called The Sereolipi Nomadic Education Foundation Inc.

Our mission comes from the Samburu people themselves. It is a privilege to be invited into the Samburu tribe, and we make sure that everything we do is in tune with their culture and aligned with their goals. We aim to have the smallest possible footprint in Samburu, maintaining our focus on education.

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How We Began

How We Began


In 1999 Jane Newman was traveling from Nairobi, Kenya to Addis Abba, Ethiopia. Near the village of Sereolipi, the Landrover Jane was in broke down. The Samburu people generously took her in, hosting her with a great deal of kindness over the next few days.

 Jane discovered that the Samburu had a very simple dream: they wanted more of their children to go to school.but their poverty made this unattainable. The Samburu knew education would be their key to survival in the twenty-first century, and a chance to attend school would create lasting change in the lives of their children. 

The following year, Jane retired from advertising and in 2001 returned to Sereolipi to stay for a month. If money was the only obstacle to a basic education, Jane knew she had power to find like-minded supporters to raise funds in the U.S. and Europe to help the Samburu. In 2002, Jane helped establish the Sereolipi Nomadic Education Trust.

Back in America she saw Clodagh and they raised enough money at their first fundraiser to cover the very first preschool. Their friends formed the core of the initial group. Jane met Linda when they were both at The Hat Shop wearing Samburu bracelets. John Fraley offered to be the Treasurer and Lori to manage the brand identity, Whitney Tilson read an article in the NY Times and he and Ciccio started the scholarship program. Gerard knew Kenya well and helps there. We have over 500 members of our tribe here. 

In 2002, the first preschool class was held under an thorny acacia tree and The Thorn Tree Project was born.

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Our Team

Our Team


The Thorn Tree Project is run and managed by a dedicated community of volunteers based in New York City and paid education experts in northern Kenya in close partnership with Chief George and the Samburu tribe.

We send money to Kenya on a project-by-project basis and visit the schools at least twice a year to evaluate activities.The program directors, parents, teachers, and students in Samburu are totally committed to improving their education and our directors and teachers work long hours and weekends to make sure the students have the best possible education.




Jane Newman - Founder
Linda Pagan - President
Gerard Govaerts   
Lori Lum
David Ashen
Maja Serdarevic -Treasurer
Tucker Robbins


Ellen Sweeney
Ali Nagle
Rob Cousins



Chief George Lemerketo - President

 Micah Rayrus - 60x5 Program Director

Leah Muia - Mentor

Morris Mwema - Scholarship Director, Mentor

Gadaffi Lenkiremishoi - Logistics Manager

 Lekopir Ltililwa - Accountant

 Maria Piperides - Finances

Catherine VandeWalle - Operations Director



Exhibition: A Samburu wedding

Exhibition: A Samburu wedding

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our press

our press

Clodagh to be Honored - via Women's Wear Daily, Aug 30th, 2016




Thorn Tree Project Founder Jane Newman Receives Classic Woman Award, Nov. 2nd 2015

Jun 04, 2015  Emily Cantrell


This week founder Jane Newman was honored by Traditional Home Magazine, receiving the Classic Woman Award 2015 for helping those in need, at a dinner at the New York City Highline Hotel. This video beautifully summarizes Jane's history with the Thorn Tree Project and the important work the volunteers have done for Samburu education in Northern Kenya. 

Pictured here: Linda Pagan (left) and Jane Newman at the Award Presentation

In October Adam Philips of Voice of America interviewed Jane and Clodagh for a segment on The Thorn Tree Project.

We were very flattered that Voice of America wanted to cover us and Philip did an amazing job of explaining what we do.  You can hear his interview here.



On JUNE 2nd we had our 12th fundraising event in NYC. It was covered by Black Tie




NEW YORK, NY, June, 2015 The Thorn Tree Project that funds schools and education for the children of the nomadic tribes of the Samburu people of Northern Kenya, hosted its 13th Annual African Bazaar on Tuesday evening, June 2, at the Center for Social Innovation, the Starrett Lehigh Building,  601 West 26th Street, Suite 325 at 11th Avenue in New York City, from 6 pm to 9:30 pm to an SRO crowd.  The fund raising event made for a very lively evening,  with cocktail/grazing tablesand various handcrafted products from Kenya and East Africa, including hand woven baskets, bracelets and necklaces, carved wooden bowls, table linens, sculptures, textiles and other unusual items.

For the first time, an African-inspired fashion show was part of the evening’s festivities. The dazzling fashion show was styled with items for sale at the boutique: dresses, kikoys and kangas, which are African sarongs, and traditional and modern Kenyan jewelry. The models will carry sophisticated clutches as well as beach kits, which are baskets with picnic blankets, sarongs and sandals. The effect is a sophisticated global look that is appropriate world-wide, and all the items are created by Samburu or the artisans at village markets in Africa.

The event was hosted  by Jane Newman, founder of The Thorn Tree Project and a member of the Advertising Hall of Fame, and Irish-born internationally known New York  designer Clodagh, who is on the top 100 interior designers’ list.  Jane Newman and Clodagh together have been devoting much of their lives and their energy to
 Thorn Tree. Jane Newman lives in Kenya for much of the year and administers the educational project.

To date, The Thorn Tree Project has educated over 1,500 young girls and boys in Kenya (including the funding of twelve pre-schools and three elementary schools) and now for the first time, will be putting some of these worthy students through college. The Thorn Tree Project has no overhead and is completely run by volunteers.

The fantastic array of food at the event was provided by David Shamah, Maja Serdarevic, David Ashen, “The Chilean Mafia,” Copenhagen Restaurant, Marco Stuckey of  Bees Knees Baking Company and Le Pain Quotidien.
For photos see here


(David Ashen, Daniel Aubry  Emily Cantrell, Clodagh, Linda Pagan, Jane Newman Maja Serdarevic  Brigitte Schaller  Clodagh with Bob Puddicombe  Lori Lum, Sophie Aziakou  Ellen Sweeney, Bob Elson)


In 2010 we managed to get visas for some of the warriors to come to New York for our fundraiser at urban Zen. It was a huge success.

Donna Karen with Samburu warriors and founding members Jane Newman and Clodagh at Urban Zen 

School Award

School Award


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