It was a casual conversation that set Megan Kelly on a course to outfit some of the world's most vulnerable children . A friend just back from Tanzania told her children in that country were denied access to village schools, unless they had a required uniform. The problem: many families were unable afford the cost - on average $17.00.
"If you think two parents are maybe making a dollar a week and they have four children, there's no way they can afford a uniform," explained Kelly. " Therefore they either forgo having their children go to school altogether and have their children work in order bring in income or select one of their children to go to school."
If you think two parents are maybe making a dollar a week and they have four children, there's no way they can afford the uniform. Therefore, they either forgo having their children go to school altogether and have their children work to bring in income or they select one of their children to go to school.
Kelly along with her friend, Jessica Roy, discovered in developing countries worldwide a lack of a uniform is a major reason millions of children never go to school.
"We both firmly believe in education and that is how we can change the world and get a lot of people out of poverty," said Kelly. " That's the key here - education. And that seventeen dollars was keeping millions of children around the world out of school seemed criminal to us."
Kelly and Roy - who met while working at a Boston investment firm - wanted to find an efficient way to get uniforms to kids. They partnered with an organization working in a village in Cambodia and funded 200 uniforms. It became the model for a non profit called Tailored for Education. In the last five years, they've provided 30,000 school uniforms to children in 16 countries.
One of those recipients is 17-year-old Lucky Kubheka. He lives in a district of Soweto, South Africa called Kliptown. Raised by a single mother, he is one of six children. Like many others in his community, his family struggles to survive.
"It becomes a hardship because, here in Kliptown, sometimes our parents are unemployed, so some of them live on social welfare," explained Kubheka in an interview via Skpye. "To buy this uniform becomes a last option, because the money the government is providing covers the basic needs."
Kubheka is on track to graduate high school next year and hopes to become the first person in his family to graduate college. He wants to work to improve schools in his community.
"To go to school is a really important opportunity for me," he said. "Because to go to school, I know that in life, I will achieve what I want to achieve."
To go to school is a really important opportunity for me because I know that in life I will achieve what I want to achieve
Kelly and Roy will not meet most of the children they help. They did travel from their homes in the Boston area to Rwanda and connected with a group of teenage girls who received their school uniforms through Tailored for Education.
"It was just like girls here, they have hopes and dreams," said Roy. " Just a different environment, many thousands of miles away."
Without the opportunity to go to school, she says, those girls and millions of other children face continued poverty and an increased risk of exploitation. "Pregnant, married young, working, dead. I mean it's endless," said Roy.
Pregnant, married young, working, dead. I mean it's endless
It's a stark reality that creates the biggest challenge to Tailored for Education - meeting a huge need. There's a long wait list of children and organizations seeking school uniforms. Both women say it's difficult to turn down people asking for their help, especially when the stakes are so high.
"The children we help could change their village, at least change their family dynamic. They could cure an infectious disease," said Kelly. "This is a very far reaching goal."