They liked his big smile, his interest in math and, perhaps the clincher, his love of The Chronicles of Narnia. He was touched by their determination to help a stranger.
And so began an unlikely friendship between a pair of young California brothers and a Kenyan teenager.
Ivan and Konstantin, of Palo Alto, Calif., connected with Michael, a 15-year-old high school student in Kenya, earlier this year through The School Fund, a charity that raises money to fund tuition for students in developing countries around the world. The boys’ mother, Patricia De La Torre learned of the charity through a friend and showed her sons the organization’s website.
Ivan and Konstantin, who were 11 and 8 at the time, spent hours reading the profiles of various children in need, before zeroing in on Michael, whose $500 school tuition was due within a week.
“We really didn’t want him to miss his deadline,” De La Torre said. So the boys dug into their saved allowances and came up with $150. The story could have ended there … but De La Torre’s sons weren’t content with providing just a contribution — they wanted to fund Michael’s whole tuition bill.
The family brainstormed ways to raise money, and they settled on pancakes.
“Around here, people always saying not enough places to go for breakfast, so we thought we’ll do breakfast-to-the-home thing,” De La Torre said. Her boys, she said, were confident in their plan.
“They were really happy. They writing (through The School Fund website) to Michael, saying, ‘We’re doing this. We’re going to make it. We’re going to come up with the money — you don’t worry, you’re going to school,’” she said. “I think Michael got a kick that these little kids put together a business to put him through school.”
Matt Severson, the founder of The School Fund, said that stories like De La Torre’s are not uncommon.
“We’ve heard many stories of kids coming to our site and clicking on dozens of students until they find one with a mutual interest in soccer or a shared dream of becoming a doctor,” he said. “As they read the students’ stories and they come to the realization these students are just like them, they’ve just been born in another place, they are motivated to fundraise and do what they can to help.”
Kids like Ivan and Konstantin are developing “positive global connections with others from different social groups,” said Drika Weller, The School Fund’s CEO. The boys are learning “first-hand how they can make a positive difference in others’ lives — all key ingredients for developing empathy and leadership and diminishing an ‘us’ versus ‘them’ mentality.”
Ivan and Konstantin likely didn’t have such lofty thoughts in mind when they started raising money for Michael. They just wanted to help another kid go to school — and if that meant filling their neighbors’ bellies with delicious pancakes, all the better.
To drum up interest in their fledgling service, the boys and their mom selected an unusual pancake recipe — beet and chia pancakes — and gave out free samples in their neighborhood. It worked: that weekend the De La Torre family cooked and delivered 18 orders of pancakes, raising $240. After securing a few more orders, they met their fundraising goal.
But they weren’t done. When the boys saw the profile of another School Fund student, this time a deaf teen in Ghana who needed just $39 to pay his tuition bill, they decided to help him, too.
“They said, ‘We can skip [going out to] dinner one night and a kid can go to school for a whole year,’” De La Torre remembered. “It pretty much came out to be a no-brainer.”
While the boys were thrilled to successfully help others continue schooling, De La Torre took satisfaction in knowing that her sons were also getting an education of sorts.
“I really wanted them to learn to manage choices and not be thinking there’s an infinite pool (of money),” De La Torre said. “There’s no free lunch, everything comes from some place.”
De La Torre said the boys want to restart their pancake service this fall, this time with monthly deliveries. Michael, after all, still has another year of schooling to go.
“They are trying to get him to second year, keep him encouraged,” De La Torre said. “This is not a fly-by-night operation. They are sticking with their goals.”