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Davis Journal

Mother-Daughter philanthropists create school in Kenya

Mar 02, 2021 11:34AM ● By Gail Newbold

At the impressionable age of 15, Gabrielle Ernest’s mom took her to Kenya on a medical mission where the sights and scenes left a life-changing impact.

“That was the first time I’d seen absolute poverty,” said the now-28 year old Bountiful native. “It made me so grateful for my life and made me want to help others. I also discovered that I’d changed and normal teen situations back at home didn’t faze me that much.”

While her pediatric nurse practitioner mother Ronda Ernest performed exams on children during that medical mission, Gabrielle applied scabies treatments, played with the kids and assisted where she could. Fast forward four years to 2011. Gabrielle was 19, had a year left before graduating from the University of Utah and needed an independent learning project. With the idealism of her age, she suggested that she and her mom start a nonprofit. The goal was to formalize some of the volunteer efforts both were already involved in and start a school in Bukura Village in Kenya.

“I didn’t know it would be as difficult as it was,” said Ronda. “We knew fundraising would be hard, but actually organizing the nonprofit required a lot of legal forms, government approvals, forming a board and much more. It was like starting a business.”

Buying land for the school in Kenya was traumatic and challenging since there are no established legal processes for it.

“I remember saying to the landowner, his sons and the area chief, ‘I am from America. I do not have a lot of money. Please tell me you are being honest,’” said Ronda. “They assured me they were. The attorney we hired to draw up the legal contract for the sale then tried to extract more money from us.

“I said to the attorney, ‘Let me go get my American law enforcement son,’” she laughs. “He was doing some charitable construction work, wearing boots and looking quite forbidding.

We managed to avoid paying the attorney extra fees by giving him toothpaste, hygiene items, soap and money for his ride home.”

A year after the land purchase had been legally completed, the brother’s sons of the original landowner now deceased claimed to be part owners of the property, and said money was owed to them as well. Ronda and Gabrielle were forced to pay even more for the land.

“It’s crazy over there,” Ronda says, shaking her head. It was crazy at home in Bountiful as well, with the mother-daughter team throwing themselves into fundraising. “We painted little girls’ fingernails at fairs, we sold flowers at dance recitals and we held many fundraising dinners and auctions,” said Ronda. “It was extremely time consuming.”

In 2013, two years after they first began trying to form a nonprofit, Education for Generations was founded. Their dream of opening Daisy School was fulfilled with the help of many donors and its director, Carolyne Daisy, a native of Kenya.

The initial 65 students were orphans or from families too poor to afford food, let alone school fees. The K-8 school has grown to approximately 350 students who receive a free meal each day in addition to a quality education. Daisy School’s academic performance has drawn the attention of many, including other school officials and the Kenyan Ministry of Education.

Despite their poverty, Carolyne Daisy’s students have scored the highest of 84 schools in the region for the last several years. For the past two years, the school’s sports teams have participated in national competitions. Hundreds of students have been helped in the past 10 years.

Running the nonprofit continues to demand many hours of its co-founders, both of whom are also employed—Ronda as a nurse practitioner at Busy Bee Pediatrics in Bountiful, and Gabrielle as a school social worker in the Canyons School District in Salt Lake City.

“Knowing that we’re helping children who desperately want to go to school and learn is very satisfying,” said Ronda. “There is great satisfaction in helping others.”

In addition to the Daisy School in, EFG also promotes education for refugees and volunteerism locally.

“We always need volunteers and people willing to sponsor one of the children,” said Ronda. 

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