What long ago I ran into a neighbor in my apartment building. I hadn't seen her in a while and so we stopped to chat for a bit. While I was prepared to hear about how her job was going about any run-of-the-mill updates in her life, I was totally unprepared to hear about her creating a nonprofit to help a community in South Africa. Amazed at her passion, I told her about "What You Can Do" and how what she was doing was exactly the sentiment that WYCD is trying to encourage. Wanting to spread the word about her inspiring story, I asked if I could interview her about her new organization, Sharing To Learn. Below is Part 1 of our interview.
1. What made you want to start Sharing To Learn? How did it come about?
I have always been interested in helping others,most especially in making a difference in the lives of children. While I did not know that I would create a non-profit organization, everything that I have ever done in my life has prepared me for this: teaching early childhood education for eleven years, living abroad for nine years, studying psychology, as well as education, etc. Throughout my career as an educator, it has always been a priority for me to create nurturing classrooms, where children develop a sense of compassion for their peers. Creating curriculum that brought children from opposite ends of the globe together, while working towards social change came very naturally to me. When I realized the opportunity to create my non-profit organization, Sharing to Learn, it made so much sense to me and seemed to be the most meaningful thing that I could do with my life. Through my organization, I am able to help empower thousands of children, vs. a classroom of twenty.
When I visited Makuleke in July, 2008 for the first time, I was struck by two things in particular: the utter poverty in which children (and adults) lived with on a daily basis, the lack of food, shoes and adequate clothing, as well as the lack of adequate healthcare and education. I was also struck by the fact that in spite of how little the people of this poor village had, they were the most giving and generous people that I had ever met. In Makuleke, one lives with the African philosophy of ubuntu, which means that a person is a person through other people; one lives in the present moment and with an open heart. The little that one has, one shares. This generosity of spirit resonated with me very much. The people of this village had taught me many lessons on a happy way of living life. When I returned to NYC after my initial 8-day trip, I found it very difficult to continue living my life as if I did not know the poverty in which my new friends were living. Most especially, I knew that the children (orphans) that I had come to care so much about really were not going to have an opportunity to lift themselves out of the cycle of poverty with the education system that they had in place - an education without books. It was then that I began collecting books to set up the Makuleke Village's first community library in July 2009. While working to accomplish that task, I found all the purpose and meaning in life. It was then that I realized the big picture: that I could indeed impact thousands of children's lives by providing the tools to a more solid education and thus giving them a viable way out of poverty. I created my non-profit organization in the state of New York in February, 2010.
2. Can you tell us what Sharing To Learn does?
Through global education, Sharing to Learn creates a forum for children around the world to be part of the solution to poverty. We create service-based learning experiences for schools, linking them with the Makuleke Community in South Africa. Children begin to learn with and from another culture, while also working towards social justice and a world of equality. Children as young as three years of age participate in our programs, becoming young social entrepreneurs. Through our curriculum, students begin to realize when something is not fair and they take action. For example, as a Kindergarten class in NYC learned about the Makuleke Community, they realized that the village did not have a library and that books were scarce. They took the initiative to create a village library. They collected hundreds of books, sorted them and prepared them to be shipped; they also held a bake sale to raise money for the library's bookshelves. STL provides a platform for children to become change-agents at a very early age. Global education is at the core of STL; learning centers established in the Makuleke Village are the offshoots of this learning.