Magazine Fall 2023 Gladly Teaching Technical Skills for Life

On a rural farm in Kenya in a series of mud buildings — known as the Shire and resembling a small Hobbiton — youth from the Nairobi slums learn to program software. For 10 weeks, they live in clean rooms with water, electricity and comfortable beds as they study computers and the beautiful natural environment.

BEN ’01 AND ALICIA BURNS ’04 EASTVOLD launched this pilot project for GLAD Technology in summer 2023 to equip Kenyans for careers in software and web development. It extends GLAD’s work in the Sacramento area that helps refugees and other disadvantaged communities gain technical skills and find jobs.


“We seek to make technology education and training more equitable,” Ben says. “We host introductory coding classes, a three-month career-oriented web development boot camp and workshops on resume writing and interviewing skills. We’re building a community of learners and professionals who support and encourage each other.”

Ben worked in education and technology at a private school in Sacramento before seeking a change and a way to give back. He and Alicia knew people running a youth mentorship program in Kenya, and they took their two daughters there in 2019 to teach Kenyans about computers. But the pandemic cut their time short. Back home, Ben worked for Bread of Life, a spiritual direction center, before he and Alicia founded GLAD in 2022. The initials stand for giving, learning and development, the nonprofit’s three key functions.

Kenyan Computer Students

“Being in Kenya and closer to the needs changes you,” Ben says. “It brings more empathy and understanding as you hear the stories and understand the need. You can’t look at your life in the same way.”

“There’s no safety net in Kenya,” Alicia says. “Young adults want to support their parents and families, but the lack of education, computers and job opportunities hampers them.”

“When we advertised in Kenya, we received 250 applications for 16 spots,” Ben says. “The need is overwhelming. People told us nothing like this exists in the country.”

Drawing on their Westmont experience, the couple established a residential program where students learn and live together. “We wanted to provide a connected, holistic experience and be sensitive to the power dynamic,” Ben says. “We seek to create mutual relationships, since giving is a two-way street. We emphasize collaborative learning.”

Kenyan Computer Students

“We envisioned a boot camp based in the liberal arts that teaches critical thinking and adaptability,” Alicia says. In a community-based learning environment, we provide employable skills and give our students a hope for a better future.

“The students needed to go further than we could take them in 10 weeks. We challenged them to find ways to spend 20 hours a week studying for 12 more weeks. Could they get access to a computer or a cyber cafe? Could rural students overcome the lack of electricity? All 16 students found ways to continue, and Ben teaches sessions once a week.”


Ben and Alicia met after graduating, he with a degree
in computer science and she with majors in music and religious studies. Drawn to the analytical side of things, Alicia has worked as a nonprofit accountant and controller, skills she now uses for GLAD.

The nonprofit focuses on both community and personal development. The couple also seek to develop GLAD and add full-time staff to serve more people, especially in Kenya. “I want to grow it bigger than myself so it’s not dependent on me,” Ben says.