LIVING and working in Kenya convinced Michael Kremer that there were third-world needs that he could help to meet. Now, just two years after he graduated from Harvard University, Mr. Kremer runs WorldTeach - an organization he started that sends college graduates to teach in rural Kenyan schools. WorldTeach was Kremer's response to a shortage of more than 35,000 teachers in Kenya. The organization has its roots in a tradition called harambee - a Swahili word that means ``let us all pull together.'' This spirit of community giving can refer to anything from a harambee cattle dip, where the villagers all contribute to build the platform to hold the cattle, to a fund-raiser to send a local girl or boy to college. When Kremer arrived in the Kenyan village of Eshisiru in 1985, the villagers were using harambee to start a secondary school.
The villagers asked Kremer to work in the school after he had worked for a few weeks on the farm owned by the peasant family he was living with. Kremer started out teaching, but soon ended up spending most of his time soliciting money from villagers and their relatives to keep the school going.
Eventually Kremer's own funds began to run low, and he realized that he would have to return to the United States to earn more money. ``I didn't want to leave the place in a lurch,'' he says. ``I wrote back to my old dorm and the placement office [at Harvard] and got 15 letters back. Eight people came over.'' Although nobody realized it then, WorldTeach had come into being.
``Before I went over to teach, going to Kenya was just a dream, and the older you get, it seems the less likely your dream is to come true,'' says Tracy Roberts, one of the eight student volunteers. ``By doing this I can believe that other things can happen.''
After Kremer returned to the US, he discovered that his friends not only listened to his stories about Kenya, but they also wanted to teach overseas. So he began to organize a program that a friend dubbed WorldTeach. Kremer was responding to needs on both sides of the Atlantic.
Sydney Rosen, a former teacher in Kenya who is now co-chairman of WorldTeach, thinks that the program's influence on Kenyans can extend beyond the classroom. ``When they [Kenyans] read about America in the newspaper, they will now be able to visualize a person. And it would help if Americans could do the same,'' she says.
The first group of six interns formally accepted into the WorldTeach program traveled to Kenya last January. Since then, almost 1,000 people from all over the world have written and requested applications. A group of 35 interns is scheduled to arrive in Kenya this month, with another group to follow in December.
A college degree is the only requirement for applicants. Interns are interviewed to determine whether their expectations match those of WorldTeach. Those accepted into the program must pay a $2,900 fee to cover air fare, insurance, training, and orientation material. Interns teach for one year in Kenya and receive about $72 a month to cover food and local transportation. Housing is provided by the village.
Donations by individuals and foundations, including a $5,000 gift from Harvard University president Derek Bok's discretionary fund, cover staff salaries and operations costs.
The European Economic Community awarded a 3 million Kenyan shilling (about $184,000) grant to a harambee school in the village of Matioli. Four WorldTeach interns have taught at the school since it opened two years ago, and one intern is now acting headmaster. The Kenyan government will match the award, to be used for dormitories and laboratories.
Although WorldTeach's initial efforts seem to promise an exciting future, a similar program at Harvard during the 1960s fell through, partly because program leaders couldn't agree on policy and administration questions.
``I think the real question is, do they [organizations like WorldTeach] survive the person that founded them?'' says Peter Timmer, Harvard's John D. Black professor of development studies at large. ``I think this one might,'' Dr. Timmer says. ``There is a clear demand from Kenya for teachers and a clear supply of students who want to teach. The WorldTeach organization has to put these two things together. Once Michael has routinized this process, the organization will be able to continue without him.''
Kremer doesn't plan to limit WorldTeach to Kenya. A former intern is working on expanding the program into other countries.
But WorldTeach's immediate goal aims at the practical rather than the idealistic. Kremer would like to upgrade the program's means of transportation in Kenya from the current motorcycle to a car. ``In undergrad work I was worrying about classes and concepts like modes of production,'' he says. ``Now I'm worrying about trying to find the cheapest airline tickets to Kenya.''
WorldTeach, c/o Phillips Brooks House, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA 02138.