One-time dream now reality — a school with 341 pupils

Categories: Around the Diocese

August 16, 2013, edition
By Sue Schulzetenberg-Gully

Photos of smiling children fill Sandy Baldwin’s album from Kenya.

“There is a very positive environment at the school,” she said. “They seem like they absolutely love it.”

Baldwin, a member of St. Paul Parish in St. Cloud, has visited St. Francis Moto Hope Academy twice since she co-founded it along with Father Francis Kabiru. Just two years ago, the school was Father Kabiru’s dream. Now 341 students in grades preschool through sixth grade attend it.


A first grade student at St. Francis Moto Hope Academy in Kenya smiles for the camera. Father Francis Kabiru, who serves two parishes in the Diocese of Suluth, co-founded the school with Sandy Baldwin, a member of St. Paul Parish, St. Cloud
photo courtesy of Sandy Baldwin

“Education means a lot to me,” said Father Kabiru, native of Moto, Kenya, and pastor of St. Agnes Parish in Walker and Sacred Heart Parish in Hackensack. “Without education, kids have no hope.”

As a child, Father Kabiru walked several miles to school. He wished the school was closer, especially on rainy days. But he found value in the education, which allowed him to complete his seminary studies at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul. He was ordained a priest for the Duluth Diocese in 2007.

He wished more children had opportunities for education.

Long walk to school

Most of the people who live around Moto are subsistence farmers and live below the universal poverty line of $2 a day. Only 10 to 20 percent of Moto’s children have access to schooling and many of them walk three to four miles each way to attend the overcrowded Moto Central School, according to the Moto Hope Mission website.

Father Kabiru and Baldwin, who has been involved in Catholic education and ministry for 30 years, began talking about the dream for the school in 2007. Baldwin was visiting her in-laws, Sandy and Pat Baldwin, who supported Father Kabiru when he was a seminarian. Father Kabiru was also visiting the in-laws and told Baldwin about his wishes for a school.

“I thought it could happen someday,” Baldwin said. “I knew there was a big need for it and he had the connections. Having the connections in Kenya has been a huge part of how the school has been successful. He has people there he knows. It was a matter of talking and planning and finding the land.”

Ground broke for the school in September 2010 for the first five classrooms. The school opened in January 2011. When Baldwin visited the school in February of that year, it had 36 students and four teachers.

“Our headmaster, who also taught, was instrumental in setting up the school and making sure the teachers had the curriculum,” Baldwin said. “By that time, we already started on the second set of five classrooms.”

Since then, the expanding school, which now has 10 classrooms, has capped its enrollment and has a waiting list.

Big plans

Baldwin and Father Kabiru are moving forward with plans to build a dormitory so that students can stay at the school and focus on their studies. They are also adding a multi-purpose room to provide a place for Mass, lunch, education for parents and a dispensary.

To raise money to complete the new additions, a fundraiser concert with internationally-known guitarist Tony Melendez is planned for August 21 at the Trailside Center in Pequot Lakes.

At the school, the students are taught in English. They learn about language, math, social studies, science, physical education and nutrition. The teachers are educated and the school is accredited.

“Our hope is to provide a quality education for our students to empower them to do more and break the cycle of poverty,” Baldwin said.

“Education is the best way to break the poverty cycle; your horizons are broader,” Father Kabiru added.

The school continues to be part of the Moto Hope Mission, which is a 501c3, run by Father Kabiru and established in 2011. A board of directors oversees it with members who live in Minnesota and Iowa. The school is funded through donations and tuition, but the goal is to be self-sustaining, Baldwin said.

The school has been able to help the Moto community with bringing electricity and running water to the city. It also brings employment to the area, Baldwin said.

“Every little thing we do can affect a community,” Baldwin said. “When we share our blessings, those blessings multiply and multiply.”

Learning continues in Minnesota as well when Father Kabiru and Baldwin share the school’s story. Though the school is many miles away in Kenya, one never knows the impact its students might make in other places. Father Kabiru, after all, never thought he would live in northern Minnesota.

“In a globalized world, God’s grace and goodness isn’t limited by location,” said Father Kabiru. “In a globalized world, if we support each other, you never know how it will affect you.”

Tony Melendez: A concert to support the Moto Hope Mission

Time: 6:30 p.m.
Date: August 21
Place: Trailside Center, Pequot Lakes
Cost: $5 youth, $10 adults, $25 family; Tickets available at and at the door.
For more information call Sandy Baldwin at 320-293-1236.

St. Paul Parish in St. Cloud is hosting a free bus with limited seating to the concert. In order to reserve a spot on the bus, tickets for the concert must be prepaid at St. Paul’s. Contact Geralyn Nathe-Evans at 320-251-4831, ext. 212, for more information about the bus.