The Thorn Tree Project began by raising money to help the Samburu start a series of preschools in the outlying nomadic communities that would allow parents to experience the benefits of schooling firsthand.
Finding a location for the preschools was easy. The community identified the largest, shadiest thorn tree in the area, and propped a blackboard up against the tree trunk.
An active committee of Samburu men and women are elected by their community to manage each local preschool. Each elected committee selects a person to cook for the students at each school. Understanding the compelling evidence that malnutrition has profoundly damaging consequences for children, The Thorn Tree Project provides food for the students and pays the salaries of the cooks and teachers.
The teacher is most often a warrior with just a few years of schooling himself. He teaches basic numeracy skills and the alphabet. The children learn songs, colors, shapes and begin developing the skills necessary for continuing on to primary school.
The first few preschools opened in 2002, giving the local parents an idea of how the schools would operate. Parents were able to see the children were acquiring new skills and they were happy learning: mothers were thrilled to see their young children able to write their names.
By the end of the the year the students who were 6 years old were ready for grade school and were looking forward to becoming boarding students so they could continue learning. These children were the first in their families to ever attend school.
Generous Thorn Tree supporters in the US and Europe "sponsor" a preschool and covering the annual $1,000 cost per school. We are very proud that all of the initial sponsors of the preschools still support The Thorn Tree Project and we now have 10 preschools operating sucessfully.