Like many college graduates, Felicia McKenzie felt the urge to travel after completing her degree. A lifetime fascination with Africa and a passion for philanthropy led her to a volunteer program based in Tanzania. In the summer of 2013, Felicia and close friend Nicole Owen left Madison, Wisconsin to volunteer in Arusha for three weeks. They taught grade 1 at Arusha Integrated School and lived with a host family for the duration of the trip.
The experience was transformative to say the least. They fell in love with the Tanzanian people and their determination, grace, and generosity. After much discussion with other volunteers, Felicia and Nicole knew they needed to continue to help after returning to the US. However, they had also come to the conclusion that “voluntourism” was not the most sustainable way to eradicate poverty.
Nicole, Grace, and Felicia with class 1A at Arusha Integrated School, July 2013.
Teaching at Arusha Integrated shed light on the flaws in the current education system in Tanzania. While government funded primary schools are free, there is still the cost of uniforms and supplies, which many families cannot afford. Additionally, of the students that are able to attend primary school, only about 25% will go on to enroll in secondary school. Thus, hundreds of thousands of Tanzanian children and adolescents are missing out on a formal education. As these children reach maturity, they will have fewer opportunities to improve their lives through well paying careers; in turn, the Tanzanian economy and infrastructure continue to struggle.
During their time in Arusha, Felicia and Nicole befriended a teacher they met, Grace Silas Lazier. A native Tanzanian, she had seen and experienced firsthand the hardships families face in sending their children to school. Frustrated and determined to do something about it, she contacted Felicia in February of 2014 with an idea. Grace wanted to start a school of their own - a school completely free for those who need it most. As she explained, “I want to help the society by helping those who live in hard situation… I must have a learning center which may help these kids to get the knowledge and skills which may raise up their life.”
It was then that Felicia and Nicole had their answer. They could continue helping the Tanzanian people in a way that was both meaningful and sustainable. Within the next month, Brighter Tanzania Foundation was born, and shortly thereafter, Saving Grace school was opened.