Magazine Feature / People

Empowerment foundation honors alumnus’ Kenyan roots

Lucas Shamala (PhD religious and theological studies ’06) may live in the United States—working as a professor at Metro State College in Denver—but he hasn’t forgotten his Kenyan roots.

“Living in America had given me an outside look to the ‘insides’ of my community,” explains Shamala, who frequently visits his rural hometown of Kambiri, Kenya. “I realize more clearly what some of the needs are and ways we can approach solutions.”

That’s why, in 2007, Shamala founded a nonprofit—SAFI (Support Africa Empowerment Foundation International), to improve living conditions in Africa’s rural areas. SAFI supports projects that focus on water, education, health care, leadership training, micro-finance, faith-based alliances and youth sports.

SAFI has student chapters at Colorado Community College of Denver and at Metro State, and more are in the works, he says.

“On one of my trips back home in 2002, I drank some of the water and caught typhoid,” Shamala recalls. “I felt like it was message to me. There are people who drink this water every day. I felt like I needed to do something to make a difference.”

For now, SAFI is spearheading projects in Kambiri, but Shamala hopes the nonprofit grows to help other communities in Western Africa.

So far, SAFI has helped install water purification systems and has built community centers that are being used for classrooms, church services and other meetings.

Other projects are also under way, including plans to build SAFI Academy—a K-12 school.

Shamala says the SAFI Academy mission is to provide students with life-long skills by giving them vocational training as well as traditional ‘theoretical’ teaching.

“When African students finish school, they wait for white-collared jobs that really aren’t available,” Shamala says. “We want to give students a function so they earn a living from what they have learned. When the SAFI Academy students finish, they will be able to immediately begin to use vocational skills in areas like technology/computers and business ventures. Our aim at SAFI is empowerment. We want to teach people how to fish, not just give them a fish.”

The school’s land purchase is under way and construction is slated to begin in summer 2010.

Through events like an April 18 benefit concert, SAFI is raising funds for the new academy and for more water purification systems.

“There will be many different bands, some rock and roll, some African,” says Shamala, noting that there also will be handcrafted jewelry for sale. Kenyan women made the jewelry through one of SAFI’s micro-finance projects.

To learn more about SAFI or how you can help, visit The benefit concert is April 18, from 4 p.m. until midnight at the Three Kings Tavern, 60 South Broadway in Denver. Admission is $7. No one under 21 admitted.

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