Literacy is at the heart of sustainable development and everywhere in our global world there is a fierce desire for education. Even the illiterate understand that without education, nothing will change. The road to human progress is paved through our ability to read and write, and literacy and education is a means through which every man, woman and child can realize his or her full potential.
This past summer I traveled to Tanzania with two of my three boys. Finn is a sophomore and Emmett is in third grade; they are both Sidwell Friends School students (Gus, my SFS seventh grader was away at camp and Chris, my husband, was on the campaign trail). Finn and Emmett and I were joining some of my closest high school friends and their families to help build a primary school for over 600 boys and girls in a remote East African village. Today, eight of the 16 classrooms are nearly complete and our deep fresh water well is flowing freely. Foundations are set, bricks are being made, and more buildings are going up! Fourteen hamlets surrounding the village are being served by Ntulya School. Africa Schoolhouse’s hope is that, by building this school, these children will have the power to make a difference in their world. For me, there is also the hope of exuding upon my own sons a hope for the future of our globe.
Africa Schoolhouse began two years ago at an annual dinner. Ever since I was a sophomore in high school, a group of us has gathered in our native New York City for a Chinese meal the Wednesday night before Thanksgiving. It is a tradition that spanned through our college years, our post-graduate years and into our family-raising years. It is now known as the Josh Dinner, in honor of one of our closest friends who died of cancer at the age of 25. In his will, Josh left a Chinese Food Fund, long-since depleted, but no less potently meaningful each passing year that we get together.
At our 2006 dinner, Africa Schoolhouse’s founder, my friend Aimee, talked to us about her most recent visit back to the continent. She had not been there for over 11 years due to kids and life and everything that gets in the way, but on this research trip she returned to Ntulya, a very special and unique healing village in the north of Tanzania. Aimee recounted to all of us at the table how the village elders asked her, at the end of her visit: that, if there were one thing she could do for them, it would be to help them build a school for the children of Ntulya and its surrounding hamlets.
Done. Seed money was promised right then and there. The board of directors was set. We were all very eager to be part of what would be an incredible opportunity to make a difference, and to do it as a collective group. Just over a month later we met with Tanzanian ministry officials at the United Nations. And, by early May we were sitting under mango
Bettina Stern with her two sons Finn and Emmett in Tanzania
trees with those same elders plotting and planning what they needed and wanted and what we thought we could help them to accomplish. In January 2008, we began raising money. To date, we have raised almost $300,000.
Nobel Prize winner and Harvard professor, Amartya Sen said: “Imparting education not only enlightens the receiver, but also broadens the giver – the teachers, the parents, the friends…and we MUST go on fighting for basic education for all.” I believe that my own kids and their classmates will themselves desire to go out and make a difference in the world. The fact is that 40 % of college graduates today are looking to do something good, to give back in some way – whether it relates to the environment, international relations, healthcare, or education. I believe our high school kids feel the same way. Africa Schoolhouse’s goal is to aid the progress of learning through the use of modern technology and environmentally conscious methods while safeguarding the traditional teachings of cultural heritage. Any high school student wishing to help Africa Schoolhouse’s grassroots mission to bring education to the neediest should get involved!