He wanted them to have a second banana.
Christopher Lee, who at the time was a sixth grader, was volunteering with more than 140 students and teachers at a school in the Kangemi Slums of Nairobi, Kenya.
Their daily meals consist simply of rice and beans; but once a week, everyone got a banana. And they love their bananas, he said.
So, Lee decided he would send his monthly allowance of $50 so they could all have a second banana each week.
Lee, now 15 years old and a sophomore at Lakeside School located in Seattle, still sends his allowance to Africa. But it’s just one way Lee, of Sammamish, tries to give back to a community less fortunate than the one he is raised in.
“Here, I think we take things for granted a little bit,” he said.
The opportunity to volunteer at the school, run through the charity organization Hamomi Children’s Centre — which began as a community project in 1999 and established a Seattle base in the late 2000s — arose when Lee was in middle school. Hamomi’s mission to improve the lives of orphaned and vulnerable children in Africa resonated with him.
Lee and his parents have since traveled to Kenya twice, bringing with them boxes of art supplies, clothing and shoes. Additionally, Lee applies his technological knowledge by teaching classes for students of all age groups and the teachers.
“We’re in the 21st Century now,” Lee said. “It’s essential everyone know just the basics to function in the world.”
As part of the charity organization’s mission, Hamomi’s three-tier system strives to, first, establish basic resources by bringing in food, shoes, clothing, medical care and social services to the area; second, establish a free and complete educational structure; and, lastly, to create a sense of sustainability, helping children become self-reliant adults able to compete in today’s world.
“The world is shifting to a more technology-based system,” he said. “If you’re not technological, you’re illiterate.”
During their most recent trip, Lee and his father established Internet in the computer classroom. (There’s only electricity in the computer room, he said. And they first “burned through (their) data plan in maybe two hours,” Lee said.)
He taught the younger children how to interact with the computer interface, using a computer program he wrote to teach them how to use a mouse. For those students who have not grown up immersed in technology, sitting down at and using a computer is not intuitive. Lee hopes to change this.
“We really have to account for everything,” Lee said. “I could just tell that they just really wanted to learn.”
Students, especially, well-behaved and eager to learn, impressed Lee.
“They feel it’s a privilege to be there,” Lee’s mother, Florence, said.
Lee also taught the older children how to use more advanced programs, like Microsoft Word, and basic programming in Scratch.
Lee held a seminar for the Kenya teachers, instructing them in Excel so they can better keep track of grades.
In the fall, he raised hundreds through a fundraiser in which he sold custom-printed, 3D-printed boxes at school, using the money to send more shoes to the students in Kenya.
He’s also built two applications, available through the Apple store.
The most recent invention, called the “IntelliSplash,” is a device that tests the purity of water. Via Bluetooth, the device sends information regarding the water’s purity to a mobile application.
“I plan to use this app when I go back,” Lee said.
He built the low-cost device during a two-day road trip, a last minute, winning entry for the Youth AppsChallenge Contest.
He “dramatically refined the app, turning it into a Internet-of-Things device,” adding social networking, GPS location awareness and user interface updates before entering it in the Social Venture Partners FastPitch business competition in October 2015.
He won first place and a $4,000 investment for the invention, in the high school venture category, at that competition. Lee will use the money to further develop the device and application.
The rechargeable device has a battery life of a week, he estimated.
He plans on replacing the battery — which is the bulk of the device — with an even smaller one.
Returning to Kenya with his parents in February, the Lees have already packed five, 50-pound boxes full of clothing donations for kindergartners through eighth graders. They anticipate packing another box with toothbrushes, toothpaste, school supplies and other tech gear they’ll need while they’re there, Lee said.
To donate to Hamomi, particularly to Lee’s shoe campaign, make out a check to “Lift Up Africa” and on the memo line write “For Hamomi Children’s Ctr, fundraising for shoes (Christopher Lee),” and mail to:
C/O Susie Marks
1517 12th Ave Ste 101
Seattle WA 98122