(The story below was originally published during our most recent trip to Tanzania in December 2007.)
On Monday, Glory was absent from school. We’d taken her on safari on Sunday, and she seemed fine, so her absence was curious. Her teacher Nancy chalked it up to the fact that we’d fed her too much on our trip. But Tuesday came, and still Glory was missing. Teacher Nancy told Leah to stop by Glory’s house on her way home to see what was wrong.Glory Abraham is a 9-year-old orphan who’s been raised for years by her sister, aunt and grandmother, switching houses intermittently when the situation becomes too crowded or uncomfortable. She’s ranked #2 in her class and wants to become a teacher. She currently lives with her sisters in a house made of mud and sticks that has a patch of banana trees in front where their outhouse is located and both their parents are buried. The sisters have been fighting with their grandmother for years begging her not to sell this small patch of land which seems to be the only thing the girls have left of their parents.
When Leah returned to school on Wednesday morning, she told Teacher Nancy that Glory would be absent again; she’d lost the sole on one of her shoes, the only pair she had to walk the mile or more to school. Glory was missing school because she had no shoes to wear. Teacher Nancy sent Teacher Rachel over to investigate further. Teacher Rachel went over to Glory’s house and went door to door in the neighborhood looking for a pair of shoes for Glory to borrow for the day. She found some and on Wednesday morning, Teacher Rachel returned with Glory to school. On Friday, Mama Lucy went to buy the child a new pair of her own.
On Friday, too, Sanjay and I received 40 thank you notes from the children in Classes 1-3. While many of the children copied the sample note their teachers had written, Glory’s was different. Of course, she’s a good student, and had copied the note her teachers had assigned, but at the bottom she added an additional sentence, and one which none of the other 39 cards included.
She wrote: “Dear Teachers: I am so lucky.”
I cried as I read it. It’s probably not the adjective I would have used to describe her, but that, above all else, illustrates simply and perfectly why we’ve chosen Shepherds Junior, despite many obstacles, challenges and our admittedly limited knowledge about building a school in a third world country.For some reason, the parents, teachers and students at this school are optimists. Despite surroundings and statistics that seem almost hopeless, the children, parents and teachers and students retain hope. And theirs isn’t an idle faith; they work incredibly hard to make sure these children live a “brighter destiny” as their motto appropriately asserts. At many other schools, for example, no teacher would have visited Glory’s house, and she may never have returned to school. It would be nearly impossible to find teachers working for about $100 a month who will clean the children’s laundry when they spill or get sick, show up on weekends for parents committee meetings, insist on personally contributing nearly 20% of their own monthly salary toward the school’s first photocopier, stay late into the night to prepare home-cooked meals for a field trip, or bathe a child who doesn’t receive adequate care at her orphanage to ensure she’s not ostracized by her peers.
Just this week, the school arose to another challenge. Though they only had a week to prepare, the teachers pulled together an amazing hour-long program and on Friday, which marked the school’s closing day for the holiday break, the students delivered their performance at a local restaurant called ViaVia which graciously donated their outdoor amphitheater for the event. The performance was the school’s first Epic Change fundraiser and, in only a week, the teachers sold 140 tickets, and raised nearly $400 USD – an incredible success! This represents their first earnings toward paying back the loans that we are providing. Given that the wire for their initial loan has not yet even arrived in Tanzania, we’re incredibly excited that the school is paying back a loan they’ve yet to receive.Speaking of which, this week, we signed an agreement with the school for their initial loan from Epic Change; we’ll be loaning the school $30,000 USD to secure the land and begin initial construction. In order to qualify for future Epic Change loans, we’ve established a few requirements. Here are some of the most significant:
When they meet these requirements, we’d like to be in the position to provide another similarly-sized loan. To help us meet this new fundraising goal, we’re looking to establish Epic Change chapters across North America and, hopefully, on other continents as well. If you’re committed to helping Epic Change in your area, I hope you’ll email us and let us know.
We leave Africa on Wednesday – hopefully we’ll be able to post once more in advance of the holidays! Until then, be well . . . and buy some holiday cards!!!
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