Pinehurst Resident Spends Time in Tanzania
Pinehurst resident Katherine Kelly, a graduate of The O’Neal School, was surprisingly not the exception as a 6-foot-3 inch female member of the Clemson University rowing team.
To the contrary, it seems very tall girls are the norm within the sport. In fact, her sister, Leah, who also stands 6-foot-3 inches, was the captain of that team her senior year.
Katherine Kelly is a lovely young woman from a strong family background, who was an outstanding athlete in a school full of handsome young men — all on the banks of beautiful 56,000-acre Lake Hartwell at the foot of the Blue Ridge Mountains of South Carolina. How does it get any better?
That was what Kelly wanted to know too.
“I felt there was just something missing in my life,” she says.
Again with the support of her family, she left her seemingly idyllic life at Clemson after her sophomore year. She had been in the field of special education, having had an interest in children who faced unusual challenges in their lives.
Kelly felt she could gain an even deeper understanding of the needs of these children if she went to the place in the world where they were probably suffering the most, the farthest corners of the African continent.
Working through the International Volunteer Headquarters (IVHQ), the soul-searching young student chose an assignment in Arusha, Tanzania.
“In retrospect,” she says, “I was hoping that this location near the coast and other exotic places would lend itself to some exciting side trips, but there was never time for that.”
While many volunteers took days off from their placements to travel, Kelly preferred to spend every minute she could with her students even during after-school hours.
She lived in a huge house with 28 other volunteers from all over the world, ages 18-70. She was assigned to teach at Hill Crest Preschool, which had been built by Elizabeth and Isaac Mogo.
The Mogos were natives who had risen above the poverty and wanted to stay in Africa to help however they could. They selected the students who would come to their school from the orphaned and the most needy. Any outside financial support came from the few families who were able to pay and from volunteers themselves.
Kelly had 24 students under the age of 7 in an 8-foot by 9-foot classroom, all of them speaking Swahili, and often at the same time. She was able to make herself understood for math lessons and for teaching letters and sounds of the alphabet, which are common to English and Swahili.
“For weeks,” says Kelly, “I would have to call Elizabeth in for assistance with discipline; but the children and I came to love each other, and they eventually became much more manageable.”
It broke the new teacher’s heart to see children taking recess in vacant muddy lots, which they shared with dumpsters and trash cans because there were no playgrounds. The children were happy to play with sticks and tin cans. They never complained because that was all they had ever known.
“These kids were more grateful for an old tire to roll around than most American kids are for a new bicycle,” says Kelly. “This was one of the traits which endeared them to me the most.”
Every Thursday, Kelly and the Mogos would visit several of the children’s homes to get to know the parents and discuss school progress. The visitors would take along gifts such as rice, beans, flour and soap.
The conditions in which the children lived were shocking. Most lived in round huts built of mud and dung with no bathrooms. Many of the parents had died of AIDs, and many of the children lived with their grandparents or aunts and uncles.
Kelly had originally planned to return to Arusha in April, but she grew so lonely for her students over Christmas that her parents finally bought her a return ticket and packed her off back to Africa. She will return there at the end of January to begin campaigning to raise money for a new Hill Crest Preschool.
Land will be sought which will be suitable for the building of a proper facility for the students. Gardens will be part of the scheme through which children can be taught to sustain themselves.
Kelly hopes to be able to provide a water tank as well, as she and the Mogos currently have to carry large buckets of water on their heads to the school each morning in order to cook the daily meals. The new school facility is projected to have four classrooms, quarters for the Mogos, a kitchen, and a dorm room to accommodate several orphan children if needed.
The International Volunteer Headquarters places more than 4,000 people each year in volunteer programs in developing countries around the world. It offers an affordable way to provide assistance to those in need and to offer volunteers a chance to see another part of the world.
Kelly will be helping to raise the down payment for the approximately $50,000 project. Those wishing to make a contribute to Kelly’s work in Tanzania can do so by visiting www.gofundme.com/13fetw.
To learn more about Kelly’s African adventure, visit her blog at www.kittykattt23.posterous.com.
Carol Halsey is a local freelance writer.
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