Mercer Island High School PETRI club members support and visit students in Kenya

By Soyun Chow

Special to the Reporter

Nine thousand miles away, there are 116 students in Taita-Taveta county in rural Kenya who are attending high school this year because of $33,000 in scholarship funds raised by high school students from Mercer Island High School (MIHS) and Vashon Island High School (VHS).

On Feb. 14-25, eight students from the MIHS PETRI (Philanthropy, Education, Teaching, Research, Involvement) club and three students from VHS Girls to Girls club were among the delegation who traveled to Kenya to meet the students they provided scholarships for, participate in STEM education, and teach Kenyan girls how to make reusable pads. They brought 18 suitcases full of supplies and numerous carry-on bags with 40 laptops to donate to 10 schools in Taita-Taveta. This trip was more than just about bringing goods, it was about meeting their friends from Kenya for the first time in person and developing friendships and memories that will last a lifetime. There was excitement when they first met and tears when they had to leave.

The PETRI club of MIHS girls seeks to empower young women in Kenya and the U.S. through education, scholarships and friendships.

“It was one of the most powerful, touching experiences ever to watch these young women all together all in one room,” said PETRI adviser MaryMargaret Welch. “These young people really do help empower us and help us understand what it means to be a global citizen, and it was remarkable.”

Maddy Dolence, grade 11, PETRI co-vice president of fundraising, attended a chemistry class in Taita-Taveta and said seeing how much Kenyan scholars valued their education made her appreciate her education even more. She enjoyed “meeting these kids in person and having face-to-face connections. I never thought I would have this experience and I feel like that just opened my eyes to so many things.”

Josie Beebe, grade 11, PETRI co-vice president of fundraising, said, “It was the most impactful experience I’ve had in my entire life because I’ve never been in such a welcoming, gracious, nonjudgemental and genuine community.”

Oftentimes, they were greeted with gifts, such as handmade bracelets, baskets and clothing. Welch even received a chicken as a gift, which is a huge honor since hens are a source of revenue.

MIHS PETRI members have Kenyan pen pals who they communicate with during Zoom meetings and informally through Google Chat. Emily Fain, grade 12, PETRI STEM lead, adds that the relationships with her Kenyan pen pals are “truly friendships that are real. Right now, I text them every day.”

Welch, a former MIHS science teacher and previous director of pre-K-12 science programs for Seattle Public Schools, is the PETRI adviser and co-founder of SeaVuria, the fiscal sponsor of PETRI and Girls to Girls Club. SeaVuria’s mission is “to make a difference in the lives of students in Kenya and the United States through STEM opportunities that inspire them to be global citizens.” (

SeaVuria also wants to decrease digital divide barriers by providing technology that will make STEM learning more accessible. The organization’s name comes from Seattle and Vuria, the mountain in Taita-Taveta that holds the cell tower that is crucial in their communication.

“This was most certainly a life-changing trip for our delegation, and we came to appreciate firsthand, that no matter one’s circumstances or where they live in the world, we all share a common bond in that everyone has dreams for themselves and their families, and parents have hopes for their kids,” said Kimberly Miyazawa Frank, one of the parent chaperones during the trip. “We are fortunate to be able to share what we have, and in return, our girls are the first to say they gained so much from them.”

During the 10-day trip, each PETRI and Girls to Girls member had different responsibilities, including going to school visits, leading a lesson on sewing reusable pads, teaching a science lab about cancer genes in elephants, and hosting field day activities.

“Every day was a unique experience,” Welch said, “They really worked hard because it was a working trip and it was an opportunity for them to experience a culture, to make a difference, and to really feel proud of something that they contributed to the organization while they were there.”

Griffin Frank, grade 12, PETRI co-vice president of scholarships, said that while some of them attended a local school, a small group visited scholars’ homes, where they were warmly welcomed with tea and snacks.

“The home visits were incredibly memorable to me and very eye opening because you see the completely different way of living; homes are very humble,” she said. “When I went on my home visit, the grandmother told us she has very similar aspirations for her family, her kids, and her grandkids that my mom has for me. It was very cool that across the world, they have the same ideals of how important education is and how important hard work is. It made the world look a lot smaller in our eyes. There were a lot of similarities in something that looks so different.”

Katie Friedman, grade 12, PETRI co-president, helped to lead the workshop on sewing reusable pads. They brought sewing machines and material and taught Kenyan girls how to make the pads.

“Period poverty is definitely a focus of our club,” Friedman said. Disposable products are often expensive, not readily accessible, and harmful for the environment. Kenyan girls often miss school due to their periods.

“For Women’s Empowerment Month, we’re doing a Period Poverty based fundraiser to buy more fabric and sewing machines to [help Kenyan girls] continue to make reusable pads,” Dolence said.

PETRI made a video about their campaign to end period poverty in Taita-Taveta: Period Campaign Video (

Alexandra Hyman, grade 12, co-president of PETRI, facilitated the group in making 120 school supply and hygiene gift bags for the Kenyan students to thank them for welcoming them into their community. She said that the Kenyan students were incredibly thankful because many do not have their own personal sets of those items.

It costs $300 a year for a day scholar and $600 a year for a boarding school scholar in Taita-Taveta to attend high school. This education is not possible for many children, especially girls, because families cannot afford it.

“In order to run an organization like this, it needs support,” Welch said. “$50 from someone here might be a few Starbucks coffees, but it means a month or two months’ worth of salary [for someone in Taita-Taveta]. They are only making $3 a day and oftentimes they can’t afford school fees, so we want to take down the barrier.”

“In the broad scheme of things, it’s not that hard for us here to raise the money, to do the work, to go to a meeting once a month,” Hyman said of being a part of PETRI. “It put into perspective for me how easy it is for me to change people’s lives.”

Fain added, “I like to think of it not as a donation, but as an investment in the future.”

How to Join and Support:

· The STEM Summer Camp for elementary students is Aug. 5-9, and you can enroll your student here or contact MIHS PETRI students work as camp counselors and teach kids how to use STEM principles in their lives to solve day to day problems. Fees collected at the camp goes toward scholarships for students in Kenya.

· MIHS PETRI Club is happy to welcome new members anytime during the school year and MIHS students can contact if they would like to join.

· PETRI will be at the MIHS Cultural Fair from 6-8 p.m. on March 16 selling baskets made by Kenyans to fund scholarships and accepting donations to help end Period Poverty. · To donate directly to SeaVuria, visit – Donate | SeaVuria

To learn more about SeaVuria’s core values of empowering educators, leveraging technology, and advocating for scholars, go to Home | SeaVuria.

MaryMargaret Welch, PETRI adviser, receives handmade baskets made by Mwakiwiwi Secondary School students. Photo courtesy of Kimberly Miyazawa Frank

MaryMargaret Welch, PETRI adviser, receives handmade baskets made by Mwakiwiwi Secondary School students. Photo courtesy of Kimberly Miyazawa Frank

PETRI and Girls to Girls members assemble gift bags for Kenyan students. Photo courtesy of Kimberly Miyazawa Frank

PETRI and Girls to Girls members assemble gift bags for Kenyan students. Photo courtesy of Kimberly Miyazawa Frank