Thiede Creates Opportunity for Children Through KenyaHELP

Theide and Purity, a star student studying computer science at Nairobi University

“Jill M. Thiede – BS – ECE – 1991, University of Wisconsin-Madison”

That is how my resume describes my time at the UW. The degree I got in engineering from Madison has been critical to my success as a process and controls engineer and more recently as a strategic account manager, but my time at the UW provided lessons far beyond Newton’s Laws and solving differential equations. I developed an understanding of our global connectedness. My roommate was from China, one of my best friends grew up in Iran, and I studied with a young woman from Lebanon. I worked with students in Computer Aided Engineering from Algeria, Pakistan, and Singapore. Growing up in Green Bay, my world was fairly small. During my time at Madison, I developed a passion for understanding different cultures.

Thiede and Ann K, a tenacious young woman whose father is dying of AIDS and mother is HIV positive. K is one of three girls and the first in her family to attend the university.

In 2005, I became involved with KenyaHELP, a grass roots nonprofit headquartered in Green Bay, and Meru, Kenya.

It changed my life.

This group provides scholarships to academically gifted and ambitious students in Meru, Kenya who would not otherwise be able to attend high school. A high school education is necessary to attain a living wage job in Kenya. The Kenyan Government only provides education through 8th grade. Families struggle to pay for high school. The average annual income in Kenya is $1,500. High School costs approximately $500 per year. Many great students are unable to continue their education due to poverty.

KenyaHELP was founded in 2003 by a small group from Green Bay who visited Meru, Kenya with Pastor Grace Immathiu, who is originally from Meru. The group met many bright, articulate students who could not afford high school. Working with the principals at local high schools in Meru, the group identified five students to support. Now, almost 10 years later, the program has grown to annually support 40 high school students at eight high schools in the Meru area. As of December 2012, KenyaHELP has enabled 97 students to graduate from high school. All have passed the national exam required of high school graduates, with many excelling. In fact, over 30 of our graduates have received grants and scholarships to allow them to attend colleges and universities. KenyaHELP also provides some funding to “bridge the gap” for these university students. We have students studying education, social work, physics, business, math, and even engineering (an electrical engineer, a chemical engineer, and a mechanical engineer). I am especially proud of two young women, one studying industrial chemistry and the other computer science.

When I moved back to Green Bay WI after working in Cincinnati and Milwaukee, I learned about KenyaHELP and agreed to participate in the mission trip in 2006 to meet these amazing students. It was an eye opening trip. I had not traveled to any third world countries. It was devastating to see the street children and contemplate how difficult each day was for them. But, it was extremely rewarding to meet the KenyaHELP students, and listen to their stories, and realize the positive impact of the program on their life and the lives of their families. I was blessed to return to Kenya in 2009, 2011, and 2012 to facilitate a three-day, two-night leadership retreat for our students. These retreats have been an amazing opportunity to spend time with these students and talk to them about setting goals and developing plans to achieve these goals.

Home to a Kenyan student. This is the communal kitchen for five families.

I am now a board member for KenyaHELP and serve as treasurer, and frequently provide presentations about our program to various church, school, and community groups. I am most proud of how this organization is focused to systemically fight poverty with education. Our students do the hard work; they have just been waiting for a chance to excel.

KenyaHELP has three goals:

  • Provide education to promote self-sufficiency
  • Develop leadership
  • Build global understanding and relationships

If you would like to learn more about KenyaHELP, and the difference you could make in a child’s life, visit the website We love to provide presentations about our students, and have traveled around Wisconsin to share their stories. Feel free to contact us to learn more about how you can help!


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