Like millions of other college students in America, Kelvin Serem ’17 returned to school this semester.
But Kelvin is sending 85 other students to school as well. They are attending a school he built — physically, philosophically, and (with considerable help) financially — in his home village in Kenya.
Passionate about both education and running, Kelvin is a government & law and international affairs double major and recently topped all other runners at this season’s opening cross country meet.
Kelvin grew up without running water or electricity in the tiny village of Kibargoiyet, Kenya, but his intelligence, work ethic, passion, and good humor were never in short supply. He scored high enough on a required national exam to attend St. Patrick’s, one of the best public schools in Kenya. But, with hardships at home and 6 younger siblings, it was always a financial struggle to remain.
Then, in spring 2011, after a series of mysterious interviews with his school’s administrators, they said they had some good news for him. Blair Academy, a boarding school in N.J., had asked them to select one student for enrollment — one with the character, academic prowess, and determination to succeed — and if he can run, so much the better. Out of 700 boys at St. Patrick’s, he was the chosen one.
“It seemed unreal,” says Kelvin. “My classmates started celebrating but I kept thinking, why me? Why not my classmate who was top of the class? Why not the guy who took nationals in running or even someone who could cover at least part of the cost?”
Kelvin had never been more than a 30-minute drive from his home. He did not have a passport nor the money for a visa. But with generosity from Blair Academy and help from their determined staff, he arrived in America.
As the first person in his village to come to the U.S., he was determined to improve the quality of life for his siblings and other children in the village. Over the past two years, he has raised more than $50,000 for the Blair-Serem School in Kibargoiyet. Two of his younger siblings attend the school.
The school, which will eventually serve grades one through eight, opened in January 2014 and includes five rooms and teachers, a kitchen, and a cook who serves breakfast and lunch. Although the cost of attending one academic year is $80, of the 85 students enrolled, 24 of them don’t pay a penny thanks to generous donations, including some from the Lafayette community.
“So many people played a role,” Kelvin says. “I would say they are all building this school….I don’t know how to say thank you enough. That’s why I tell my parents that if I die, do me a huge favor and make sure the school changes the lives of the students. That’s the best gift they could ever give me.”