(StatePoint) Strengthening communities is often a family affair. At least it is in the case of Alioune Thiam and his siblings.
Thiam, a senior systems engineer at Amazon Web Services (AWS) who is now based in Minneapolis, doesn’t take his own education for granted. He was born and raised in a village in Senegal where many parents didn’t enroll their children in school, often due to a more pressing need for basic resources. His father, however, was a believer in the life-changing power of education and required his children to pursue it. Thiam would walk nearly 6 miles roundtrip to attend the nearest school from his home. Seeing this barrier his own children faced, Thiam’s father eventually established a local school for the village.
Thiam’s father passed away in 2016, and two years later, Thiam and his siblings founded KT & Fils, a nonprofit dedicated to promoting, supporting and funding education in their hometown village. The organization is named for their father, Kaiba Thiam, and “fils” which means “sons” in French.
Thiam learned about the Inclusion, Diversity and Equity (ID&E) Innovation Fund, a micro-grant program that awards funding to AWS employees seeking to make a positive impact in underrepresented communities. With a colleague’s encouragement, Thiam applied last year on behalf of KT & Fils.
The ID&E Innovation Fund is one of the ways AWS scales its ID&E strategy globally. The organization has employees from all over the world, and they play a powerful role in advancing inclusion, diversity, and equity in their local communities.
Thiam was one of the 28 AWS employees who received a grant to partner with nonprofits or support their own nonprofits to make a difference in marginalized communities worldwide. With the grant, KT & Fils was able to build a solar-powered water pump that serves the village of over 500 residents and its school of 150 students. Ready access to clean water means that students have fewer illness-related absences, the school has functioning bathrooms, and girls do not have to miss class due to lack of water in the bathroom, their menstrual cycles, or to collect water for their families.
Thanks to this basic resource, more students have enrolled and are able to be successful there, according to Thiam. However, he notes that there is still a lot more work to be done, which is why as part of the third annual Innovation Fund this year, AWS chose to renew his project, along with four other recurring projects. With this continued support, KT & Fils will identify and address other pressing roadblocks to education access in the village. Among the organization’s ideas are to establish a sustainable agricultural system, whereby the nonprofit can grow food for the students and school staff. They are also brainstorming ways to leverage tech for good by providing devices for students and building a virtual library.
“My father was the most generous and inspirational man I have ever known, and I feel grateful to continue his legacy and commitment to expanding access to education from thousands of miles away,” says Thiam. “We won’t rest until 100% of the kids in our area have the opportunity to go to school and 80% of them graduate from high school. We believe all kids deserve the opportunity to access education that will transform their lives.”