The Beginnings

What is in a Name ?

KassieShe was a ravishingly beautiful girl.  As attractive as that might sound, it is not what endeared her to you. She had the kindest personality and soul that one could ever imagine. From her cradle to her coffin, she was among the best God has given to humanity. 

Her name was Kassandra Arielle Therese Braun. She was my daughter, yes, my goddaughter. I can still remember strolling the malls in Mechanicsburg and York, Pennsylvania, with her mother; Kassie’s hand would slip out of mine so that she could dash off to greet everyone in the mall. She had no enemy; no one was a stranger in Kassie’s world. Her smile would melt away your pain. The Buddhist monks built a shrine at the grounds in Myanmar where she fell to her death. In her, they saw a woman who was beautiful enough to be a goddess. She is my saint, Saint Kassie Braun.

Kassie grew up in a comfortable family in Fishers Indiana; but she was uncomfortable with that little world. She wanted to reach out to the bigger world. She did not believe in exclusive communities and would not participate in them. She believed that “we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.” The plight of others distressed her and urged her to help. Even a hurting animal made Kassie distressed and she would do something to alleviate their pain. 

She decided to travel the world as an ambassador of love. She traveled to West Africa and wrote, “Dad, when I graduate, I am coming here to teach. I could help.” She wanted others to have what she had; she was always willing to give. She never made it back to West Africa; she died before she returned from that trip. "My thoughts," says the Lord, "are not like yours, and my ways are different from yours.” 

We have struggled to make sense of a beautiful life that was cut short. Will it ever make sense?  However, Kassie has woken us all from the stupor of insensitivity to the plight of others. Today David and Chalene Braun, her parents, are no longer writing checks and dropping in the collection basket for the poor. Today, they are traveling the world, like Kassie, and holding hands with the poor, believing in #KassieKares. Kassie’s spirit challenges us all to reach out and help others, especially those that are less privileged than we are.
Though Kassie did not physically return to West Africa to teach, as she hoped, she returned in spirit to touch more students for generations to come, through the school named after her. Our school in Abakaliki, Nigeria is named Kassie Braun Memorial School after my daughter, my saint, Kassie Braun. 

“What indeed is in a name? I had wanted to name the school “Karis” meaning “Grace/Gift” because I believe that my life is a gift. John 1:16 is my favorite scripture passage, “Out of his fullness, we have received grace upon grace.” I tried different versions of those names, “Karis International Academy”, “Karis Dominican School”, but was told in Nigeria that I could not use those names because the name “Karis” has been registered by another school and is no longer available. “I alone know the plans I have for you, plans to bring about the future you hope for.” This school carries more than Kassie’s name; it is the embodiment of her spirit and her values. These are the values that all those who pass through the doors of this school will imbibe, live and share. 

I once again invite everyone to join me in making Kassie’s dream of a better world for everyone, especially those who are less privileged than we are come true. For as the scripture says, “Freely you have received; freely give.” This is what God would want us all doing. Thanks and God bless you.

Education is the best gift you can give to any child. When you give education to a child, you change her/his life for the best; you equip that child with the tools to face the world, the weapon to overcome illiteracy which is the greatest enemy to development and progress.

In AEO, we are happy to give because we feel blessed:

 “Gratis accepistis, gratis date.”
We believe that we received freely and we must give freely.

Father with Children

Oftentimes we take education for granted, we take it for granted that at certain age we will start kindergarten, then to elementary school, to middle and high school and maybe to college. But it is not so for many children around the world. In such countries, instead of being in school, a child is sent to the street to hawk vegetables and food stuff or to the farm or the mines. 

Child labor remains a major concern in Nigeria, in spite of legislative measures. Child labor is defined as work that is mentally, physically, socially or morally dangerous to children and deprives them of opportunities for education and development. According to the International Labor Organization, the number of working children under the age of 14 in Nigeria is

estimated at 15 million. The high number of tedious jobs that children execute in dangerous circumstances is particularly worrying. These jobs include being street vendors, beggars, car washers and shoe shiners. Others work as apprentice mechanics, hairdressers and bus conductors while a large number work as domestic servants and farm hands.

Research also shows that child workers display poor educational achievements. Girls start working at an earlier age than boys, particularly in the rural areas. They also suffer the triple burden of housework, school work and jobs outside of the home whether paid or unpaid. One of the most common practices is the use of children as child domestics – especially girls.

Major causes of child labour are widespread poverty, rapid urbanization, breakdown in extended family affiliations, high school dropout rates, and the lack of enforcement of the legal system meant to protect children. Traditionally, children have worked with their families, but today children are forced to work for their own and their family’s survival. The money earned by child family members has become a significant part of poor families’ income. "This was my experience growing up" recalls Fr. JohnBosco.

In and around Abakaliki, we noticed that classroom buildings constructed by the missionaries and the Nigerian government before and after the Nigerian civil war (1967-1970) remain dilapidated, often with blown off roofs.  Children are left to study under the shade of nearby trees.

(Dilapidated classroom block with blown off roofs)

(Students have to study under the shade of nearby trees)

Where intact buildings exist, the classrooms usually are not equipped with desks for students or with tables and chairs for teachers.  Based on Nigeria’s 2010 Basic Education Profile, it is observed that there are fewest Early Childcare Development (ECD) centers in Ebonyi State compared to the other five Southeastern States.  

Abakaliki, like most towns in Nigeria, is growing rapidly. It has a population of 192,000 and is projected to reach 290,000 by 2040.  By 2040, Ebonyi state is expected to increase from 2.5 million to a population of 4 million. In about 25 years, about 1.5 million youth in Ebonyi state alone will need education. This growth is also true of the neighboring Nigerian States; United Nations projects that Nigeria with a population of 177.5 million people will reach 300 million by 2040. This projected population growth underscores the urgent need to finance, build, and maintain additional schools for Nigerian youth.

Without the existence of quality schools to take care of this growing population, families in Ebonyi State will continue to struggle to survive through subsistence agriculture, on soil that is hardly productive due to over use and abuse. There are youth on these farms today who cannot read or write, and live on the farms with their parents. These children who work suffer from fatigue, irregular attendance at school, lack of comprehension and motivation, improper socialization, exposure to risk of sexual abuse, high likelihood of being involved in crime. They are unable to practice modern and mechanized farming because they lack the knowledge to do so. Without new educational opportunities, many of these youth will end up hawking on the streets to make a living, thus perpetuating the cycle of poverty.

Our vision, in the face of these challenges, is to provide education to students who desire it. Thus, AEO chose the Abakaliki region for the development and construction of our first school, because of the strong potential to improve educational opportunities for youth in and near Abakaliki, as well as youth in other areas of Nigeria.


(Classroom building under construction. Please help us complete this classroom building.)



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