Friday, January 28, 2011


At the elementary school I work in one of the things we try and impress upon the students is a sense of community, working together and helping the less fortunate; those in our neighborhood and the world. One of the projects that we've been working on the last three years is Building Futures in Kenya. A man named Jim Nowak, a local neighborhood resident visited our school three years ago to tell us about students in Kenya and his efforts. He helps to build schools in Kenya. He has since returned four times to give us updates. His friends in Kenya call him Jemo and we could call him that too.

Our friend Jemo

Jemo retired from a 30+ teaching career and began his organization Buliding Furtures with a friend. He spends 5 months per year in Kenya helping with construction and other details and the other 7 months here in Rochester spreading his message and fund raising for the Kenya school. He's been to Kenya 13 times. He tells us he doesn't do this alone. His organization has many people that help in many ways from construction to financials.

Jemo introduced us to his friends in Africa though a slide show and words. These students didn't have a school, when they were able to come to school it was held outside or in rundown shacks. He explained how getting an education is important and how our school can help their "school". Our school decided to help and we got into raising money for Kenya. Our biggest fund raiser is our Run for Kenya where students would collect pledges and then over a period of two weeks during PE class as well as before school students run laps in the gym. Our goal was to raise 5,000 dollars, the cost of a new classroom. Jemo would visit us and regale the students with stories of children in Africa. He taught them some words in Kiswahili and we exchanged letters with students in Kenya. It was a great learning experience. The first year we surpassed our goal, not only did we raise enough money for one classroom but for three!! We raised over 15,000! Of course we aren't the only school he visits and I have no idea what they raise but we did great. For two years we raised money for the buildings and had a building named after our school. We have pictures in our hallway of the school and children and they have pictures of us and our school. Eventually they had classrooms for 600 students as well as kitchens and bathrooms. Together all of his fund raising efforts raised enough to build the Mbaka Oromo Primary as well as a secondary school. Our third year fundraiser went towards something they don't have in their community, a medical clinic. Again the students put their hearts into it and raised a lot of money to help with this project. Fourteen months later the clinic was completed. We are gearing up for our fundraiser this year, another Run for Kenya. Our students look forward to it, its become a tradition.

We received some sad news at the end of the day today. The vibrant, generous, kind, selfless man, Jim Jemo Nowak was killed in a car accident this morning in Africa. He'd been in Kenya since October and was scheduled to return to the states in February and kick off our fundraiser.

It makes my heart ache to know that someone as giving and enthusiastic is gone from this Earth. Why? I know there's a reason for it and sometimes you never know what the reason is. I just can't believe this man is gone.


Luticha said...

i do not know you, but i did know mr nowak. i was a student when he taught some yrs ago. he was always a person who was open and willing to listen, he was easy to talk to and get along with. he had a light that inspired everyone around him to do better for their fellow man. hearts around the world are breaking at this tragic news

Anonymous said...

I feel the same way. Jemo was a friend and I saw him the day before he left. The world will never be the same without him.

Anonymous said...

I'm a former student of jim nowak.I've know him from high school and would see him from time to time. He has inspired many people, in many states & continents..Another Fairport angel in heaven.May his legacy continue..

Gman said...

When I lost my mother this past year, I have to confess that my thoughts too wandered down the same path as yours. Why did such a caring and selfless person have to leave this world when we needed them the most? Why oh why, when there was so much more that we could have gained from their very presence in our lives each and every day? It was tough time, but in the end I came to the conclusion that the work they had been placed on this earth to do, was now completed. It was now time for us to take flight on our own for the first time and honor their memory by trying to uphold all that they believed in. Like my mother, your good friend had too completed his work and I have no doubt that he has gone to a better place and earned his ultimate rewards. And as we recall them with fondness we too should stop for a moment and simply state, "well done, well done..."

Sandi said...

How very sad. I am happy about the work he did for the people of Kenya, though.

Pete said...

I am Dr. George Luchiri Wajackoyah, Kenya's Presidential Candidate 2012 and currently on meet the people world tour campaign. While here in Rochester I learned with profound shock of a man that has dedicated his life to improving the lives of many in my country. Thank-you Jemo for all that you have done. You will be missed.
Mungu akubariki.