During the sometimes shaky early post-colonial rule in African nations, Julius Nyerere distinguished himself by the humble, austere lifestyle he chose and for voluntarily and peacefully stepping aside when it was time for him to do so. Though Nyerere, Tanzanian president from 1961-1985, died in 1999, his legacy lives on both in his native country and internationally.
Born into the Zanaki tribe, southeast of Lake Victoria on April 13, 1922, Nyerere’s given name was Kambarage. He attended a Catholic mission school where he was widely recognized as a gifted student, leading him to attend college at Makerere University in Kampala and later receiving a scholarship to Edinburgh University where he received a master’s degree in history and economics. (1)
Influenced by the Roman Catholic priests throughout his education, Nyerere became Catholic himself, taking Julius as his baptismal name. (1)
Nyerere began his career as a teacher in Scotland. Soon, though, he became involved in the politics of his changing African homeland, called Tanganyika and ruled by the British at that time. After winning the election as president of a social organization, Tanganyika African Association, he quickly converted it into a political party. The party became known as Tanganyika African National Union and its formation on July 7, 1954 is now a national holiday called Saba Saba, or the seventh day of the seventh month. Nyerere and his newly formed party led the peaceful and successful struggle for independence. (1)
As president and an adherent of socialism, he established a system of collective farms called ujamaas through the Arusha Declaration. Through it the government coerced people scattered around tribal lands in rural areas to collect in villages or communes where they would have access to education and medical services. Many considered the policy a failure and criticized Nyerere for it. (3)
Still, he is regarded as a man who strove for peace, unity and humanity. (4) He led Tanzania through a unification with Zanzibar. (2) Believing in national unity over tribalism, he also promoted Swahili as a national language that would supplant dozens of tribal languages. In his free time, he even translated several of William Shakespeare’s works, including Romeo and Juliet and Julius Caeser, into Swahili. (1)
Nyerere’s reputation as a principled leader grew on the international stage as well. He led his country in a struggle against the brutal dictator, Idi Amin, in Uganda in the late 1970s. In the 1980s his was one of the strongest African voices against Apartheid in South Africa. (3)
And he set an admirable example as a humble leader, perhaps an anomaly among the corrupt leaders of the world who enrich themselves at the expense of their citizens. Nyerere never received more than $8,000 in salary during his time as president. (1) After completing his tenure, Nyerere left voluntarily and then continued to work as a statesman, advocating for cooperation between developing nations and on conflict resolution on the African continent. (4)
In the opening scene of the critically acclaimed 2008 movie “Slumdog Millionaire,” a young boy named Jamal plays cricket on an airport runway. Jamal and the other children wear rags, lack shoes and use sticks and rocks to play their game. Suddenly the local police appear and aggressively chase the boys through the streets of Mumbai, past massive garbage dumps and into the vast slum in which they live. For many of us, these depictions are all we know of the millions that the United Nations considers children in street situations.
April 12, the International Day for Street Children, gives kids like Jamal a voice. Danny Boyle, the director of “Slumdog Millionaire,” is one of several high profile supporters of the Consortium for Street Children (CSC) which sponsors this globally recognized day. The CSC, a network of NGOs and researchers across the globe, was launched in 1993 by then prime minister of Great Britain, John Major. It advocates for committing to equality, protecting every child, providing access to services and creating new solutions. (1)
The four steps stem from the 2017 U.N. general comment on children in street situations. The purpose of the general comment was to demand that governments pay attention to their most vulnerable surviving in the streets and ensure that these children have the ability to access their rights.
Before publishing their statement, a UN commission studied the issue by interviewing 327 children and young people from 32 countries. Some of these children depend on the streets to live and work either with or without family members. Others were children who formed connections with public spaces; the streets played a significant role in the children’s lives. The overwhelming majority of the children interviewed asked not for a material change in their lives, but instead for respect, dignity and human rights. (2)
In Tanzania, an estimated 437,500 children survive on the streets. (3) According to a 2002 study in a Tanzanian urban center, the government policies in Tanzania have failed because they have dealt with the symptoms rather than the causes. What are the causes? This same study suggested that poverty is the main reason. A survey by NGO Mkombozi states that for 22% of street children, their situation is a result of school exclusion and an inability to pay school fees. (6) UNICEF has reported that 75% of these children have experienced physical violence and 25% have suffered emotional abuse, driving them to the streets. (3) Others have suggested that the orphaning of children as a result of AIDS and other lethal diseases has led to a large population of street children.
Whatever the cause, the results are pernicious. The children lack safe and hygienic sleeping areas, a lack of safe drinking water, and rancid food leftovers. Vulnerability to poor health is one outcome. These ailments include malaria, diarrhea, respiratory problems, scabies and other skin-related infections. The children are also at a higher risk for physical and sexual abuse. (4)
In addition, the children, like Jamal in “Slumdog Millionaire,” suffer from and are targets of harassment by law enforcement. The authors of an in depth study of street children in Dar-Es-Salaam in 1994 and 95 noted the mindset. “The official government attitude towards street children has been very negative. Street children are considered to be hooligans, vagabonds and prone to commit crimes.” (4)
The researchers concluded that practices that would help these children included keeping the pavement clean and public bathrooms working. The availability of clean drinking and washing water in public kiosks would go a long way. The researchers added that it was addressing larger social and economic issues more aggressively that would bring about a stronger long-term outcome. (4)
Photo by Chinh Le Duc
The ability of impoverished children to access education is one such way to do that. A 2014 Tanzanian survey by an international labour organization documented that 5 million children aged 5 to 17 worked outside the home, and 3.1 million of these children worked under hazardous conditions that increased their risk for injury and disease. (5) An education would empower these children to be engaged in a productive activity off the streets or in a dangerous working situation and potentially pull them out of a cycle of poverty.
Saving Grace School in Arusha attempts to do just that. Because many Tanzanian children cannot afford school fees, uniforms and supplies, Saving Grace covers all of the costs. With more schools such as Saving Grace, perhaps the number of children endangered on the streets would begin to decrease.
Though “Slumdog Millionaire” had a Hollywood ending when Jamal competes and wins India’s version of Who Want to Be A Millionaire, most street children are left with only their wits and survival instinct. The day set aside to bring attention and dignity to these children also calls out government to participate in finding solutions.
Uruguayan writer Eduardo Galeano said it best: “Poverty is not written in the stars; under development is not one of God's mysterious designs.” With complacency, comes status quo. With the strategic goals and action of organizations such as the United Nations, World Economic Forum and World Health Organization, comes a more just and equitable world. International development in 2017 saw strides in disease management, water accessibility and local economic growth.
Each year as the snow flies in January in Davos, Switzerland, political, business and other leaders gather to discuss and shape global, regional, and industry agendas. The World Economic Forum is a not-for-profit foundation that fosters public-private cooperation in international development. The following three areas of focus were among the achievements that came out of the 2017 forum.
Social entrepreneur Gary White and actor Matt Damon of water.org announced a partnership with Stella Artois to help provide clean water to 3.5 million people. (5)
In striving to improve the delivery of digital cash payments in populations in crisis, business and humanitarian communities developed several essential principles. Digital cash proves to stimulate entrepreneurialism and advance local economies. (5)
The Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations was launched. Its goal is to create vaccines that can quickly react and be released when an outbreak occurs. (5)
The World Health Organization reported on its own progress in 2017. With offices in over 150 countries, the WHO works with governments and other partners to fight infectious and noncommunicable diseases and to safeguard the safety of our air, food, water and medicine. Following are several highlights of the report.
The elimination of malaria in The Maldives and Sri Lanka was announced. The WHO continues to work on accelerating progress across the Southeast region where more than 230 million people are still at high risk. (1)
Achievements in combating neglected tropical diseases (NID) were reported. In 2007 a group of global partners agreed to target these NIDs. “The WHO has observed record-breaking progress towards bringing ancient scourges like sleeping sickness and elephantiasis to their knees,” said WHO Director-General, Dr Margaret Chan. (2)
Bhutan and the Maldives announced the elimination of measles in their countries. The WHO continues to boost measles immunization rates worldwide. (3)
In an effort to eradicate polio on the continent of Africa, 116 million children were vaccinated. (3)
The achievements of these organizations and others bolster the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The 17 goals in this agenda target the eradication of extreme poverty and the securing of the planet. The agenda’s preamble states: “We are determined to take the bold and transformative steps which are urgently needed to shift the world onto a sustainable and resilient path.” (4)
3. http://www.who.int/features/2017/year-review/en/#event-_2017- year-in-review
5. https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2017/01/10-achievements-davos- 2017/
The pioneer story held my imagination captive during childhood. Caddie Woodlawn, Little House on the Prairie, and later Willa Cather’s novels. It was on my eighth birthday that I received the full series of Laura Ingalls Wilder books, each crispy, fresh-smelling book more enticing than the last. I was fortunate as a child to be provided such gifts. I was blessed to have parents who promoted reading and the accessibility of a library.
It was American author and literacy educator Pam Allyn who began in 2007 to advocate for literacy as not just a privilege for some but a human right for all. It was with this belief that she set about establishing the non-profit organization, LitWorld, which led to the formation of World Read Aloud Day, celebrated on February 1, 2018. (1)
Photo by Annie Spratt
Much like Felicia McKenzie’s founding of Brighter Tanzania Foundation, Allyn’s path began with a visit to an impoverished community in Africa which inspired her to act to improve the lives of kids. Specifically, in Kiberia, an area of extreme poverty in Nairobi, Kenya, she witnessed the intense desire of children to read, write and share stories. She also observed the obstacles that kept them from doing so. (1)
Photo by Steve Shreve
Through Allyn’s advocacy, World Read Aloud Day began in 2010. Organizers strive to bring awareness to the importance of reading aloud to all children. The need is real, the literacy statistics startling. Worldwide, 750 million adults (2/3 of these women) lack basic reading and writing skills. Reading aloud every day to children puts them almost a year ahead of children who lack this effort. As Allyn once said, “Stories are more than a gentle escape. They are a life raft.” (1)
LitWorld provides resources and activity ideas to teachers, parents and other adults participating. It promotes author read alouds while visiting classrooms or via video chats. Most importantly, LitWorld is a microphone through which the mission of advocating worldwide literacy is spread.
The mission is indeed global. Scholastic Books is one of LitWorld’s sponsors. It hosts read aloud events in Australia, Africa, Asia, Canada, India, Latin America, Puerto Rico, New Zealand and the United Kingdom. (2)
The message has been heard loud and clear in South Africa. In 2017, the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study, which assessed students in grade 4 of South Africa’s schools, released some dismal results. The study found that 78% of the students were illiterate. (5)
Though the results were alarming, the government had already recognized the need for literacy intervention. In 2012, a national campaign began called Nal’ibali which means “Here’s the story” in isiXhosa. The campaign identifies the link between reading for pleasure and improved outcomes for kids. (3)
Because the campaign attempts to create a reading culture, South Africans readily embraced Read Aloud Day. In fact, a different story is chosen for South African children each year and the country seeks to outdo its participation rate in reading this story from the preceding year. In 2018, South Africans read “The Final Minute” by local author Zkiswa Wanner. Nal’ibali provided downloadable copies of the story, available in 11 official languages. On Read Aloud Day, Wanner read the book in isiZulu to 1000 school children in an open-air venue. In total, over 1,000,000 South African children heard the story read that day. (4)
Back in the U.S., the importance of reading aloud to our children continues to gain attention. A Kids and Family Reading Report sponsored by Scholastic Books noted an increase in this beneficial habit between the years 2014 and 2016. The national study surveyed kids, ages 6 to 17 and their parents. The study found that the percentage of parents who read to their children before three months of age increased from 30% to 40% during this time period. Parents who read to their children 5 to 7 times per week increased from 55% to 62% for children between the ages of 3 and 5. (2)
Whether Laura Ingalls, Harry Potter or Dr. Seuss, a book allows a young mind to travel, transform and grow. A caring adult who reads it can take a child on an even longer journey.
Population: 12 million
Languages: French, Susu, Fulani, Mandingo
Area: 94,926 mi²
Life expectancy: Male 58.2, female 59.8
Median age: 19 years
Literacy: 30.4% (total) 22.8% (women)
School life expectancy: 8 years for girls, 10 years for boys
Population below poverty line: 40.9% on less than $1.25 a day.
Top religions: Islam, Christianity, indigenous beliefs
Summary: Located on the coast of west Africa, Guinea is formally known as The Republic of Guinea. This tiny nation has substantial mineral deposits, which generate a significant portion of the nation’s wealth. However, Guinea still has one of the poorest populations in west Africa. Regional instability has limited economic growth, and contributed to religious and ethnic tensions. Guinea also struggles with an overwhelming refugee population from Liberia and Sierra Leone. (1)
The recent Ebola virus had a significant impact on the Republic of Guinea. 11,000 died and 28,000 were infected. Before the outbreak in 2014, Guinea had severely underdeveloped health resources. There were high levels of maternal and infant mortality. On average it spent 9$ per capital on health, and there were fewer than 3 health workers per 20,000. This is partly why the disease spread unchecked for several months before it was detected. Another reason the disease could spread freely was because health workers were so rare, rural populations actually distrusted and avoided them. During the beginning of the outbreak, some people believed that health workers were spreading the disease. Health workers who won past this distrust created local clinics in tents near affected villages. This encouraged transparency and trust. Even so, a military presence was required to ensure quarantine compliance and health workers’ safety. (1, 5,6,7,8,9)
The outbreak strained available health resources beyond their capacity, and the Guinean Ministry of Health is still trying to repair their health system. A silver lining, perhaps, is that the intervention of foreign health care workers helped identify specific areas of improvement for the Guinean healthcare system. President Conde also mobilized hundreds of newly graduated medical students to work with Ebola patients. These young health workers now have a stake in building their health care system to prevent a similar outbreak occurring again. The process of fighting Ebola- setting up hospitals, clinics, clinical trials, marshalling and training health care workers, etc. is believed to have laid the groundwork for additional development of the Guinean healthcare system. The long-term sustainability of this groundwork remains to be seen, as donations and funding have fallen dramatically since the end of the outbreak. (1, 5,6,7,8,9)
Colonized by the French in 1891, they secured independence in 1958. The first President, Ahmed Sekou Toure remains in power until his death in 1984, when he is replaced by President Lansana Conte. In 1990, a new constitution is adopted which permits civilian leaders. 1993 ushers in the first multiparty election, in which Conte is the victor. Despite insurrections, violence, and protests, Conte remains in power until his death in 2008, whereupon the military seized control of the government. These decades of violence had crippled the economy, healthcare system, and other national infrastructure. After the assassination of the military leader, Captain Moussa Dadis Camara, there’s a gradual return to civillan rule. A contentious election in 2010 (which had to be run twice due to no clear victor) saw the eventual instatement of President Alpha Conde. Opposition supporters clashed with security forces and accused the president of rigging the presidential election and the parliamentary election. President Conde blamed the military government for emptying the nation’s treasury. In 2014 the international pandemic Ebola strikes, and spread to Liberia and Sierra Leone. US President Barak Obama sent 3,000 military personel to build health facilities and train health workers. In 2015 President Conde wins a second term, despite accusations of irregularities. (1, 2) Ebola-related travel restrictions were lifted in 2016. (3)
Educational attainment and access to education has fluctuated over the past few decades. In general, due to high levels of poverty, and insufficient school facilities, educational resources, and low teacher-to-student ratios, Guinea has low national educational attainment. The recent ebola crisis had further destabilized fragile infastucre. Primary education is mandatory in Guinea, a policy which has increased primary school enrollment and attendance, however poverty still creates obstacles for higher education, and girls have a lower rate of primary school completion than boys. (10,11, 12, 13, 14)
A year past the ebola crisis, Guinea is still rebuilding their educational infrastructure, and it remains to be seen what post-ebola enrollment and graduation rates average out at. Before the ebole crisis, in 2012, 55% of girls and 68% of boys completed primary school. 32% of girls and 41% of boys advanced to secondary education. (10) On average, girls will spend 8 years in school, and boys will spend 10. (14)
Given the critical necessity of building their healthcare infrastructure and training the next generation of healthcare workers, experts hope that these needs will be reflected in increased resources being directed into education.
Tourism is undeniably powerful: it moves people, money and ideas around the world, and in increasingly greater numbers. It has the potential to encourage economic development in far flung places and encourage mutual, positive understanding between people who would never otherwise meet. However, it also has the potential to waste or destroy natural resources, and the wealth gap between locals and visitors in some places might accidentally create exploitative situations. (7,9,10)
Fortunately, a vibrant community of international tourism organizations and travel agencies strives for an ethical balance of the diverse needs in this growing, global industry.
In fact, every fall, World Responsible Tourism Day celebrates over a decade of advocacy for beneficial and regulated tourism around the world. This year, the theme is sustainable development. In the past, it has focused on eco-tourism and poverty reduction. This year’s theme of sustainable development, focuses on both ecological sustainability and economic sustainability- encouraging initiatives that don’t strain the environment and have a good chance at continued economic success after an initial support period. (1,2,3,7)
Advocates for ethical and responsible tourism tend to focus on areas with sensitive ecosystems or significant poverty. Yet tourism can bring benefits and challenges to any environment. Take Paris, France for an example. A wealthy city in a first-world country which is regularly flooded with tourists (some well-mannered, some not) who contribute to the city's severe congestion and other infrastructure strains. 2017 might even be a record-breaking year for tourists pouring into the city, despite concerns about terrorism. Even though tourism presents diverse challenges for the city’s infrastructure, resources and security, it remains a leading economic force, creating significant employment and business opportunities.(4)
These and other strains are also felt by newly invigorated tourism industries in developing countries and rural regions, but these areas often lack the experience, resources and existing infrastructure to meet sudden increases in demand if a location suddenly surges in popularity. Tourists' interests can be seasonal and fad-driven, creating an unreliable or volatile source of income. (5,10)
Therefore, every year, international tourist organizations gather to celebrate successes and discuss areas which need improvement or protection. Governmental agencies also focus on tourism, especially harnessing the revenue provided by tourism to fuel ecological projects and infrastructure development. The Intergovernmental Committee of Experts (ICE), organized by the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), convened recently to review how the expansion of the tourism sector could help support and promote Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) and fuel nation-specific economic goals. (SDG are internationally promoted goals to encourage specific kinds of growth in developing regions.) (11) An example of harnessing tourism for the greater good can be found in can be found in Tanzania, where the Responsible Tourism Tanzania (RTT) organization focuses on the nation’s unique cultural, social and economic needs. (5,8)
One such recent success story is the Ngorongoro Conservation Area Authority (NCAA)’s recent nomination for registration as a Global Geopark of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (Unesco). Dr. Freddy Manongi, director general of NCAA, stated that the area would soon get its registration as a 'Unesco Geopark.' (6)
Unesco Global Geoparks' are unified geographical spaces where sites and landscapes of international significance are holistically managed to protect, educate and sustainably develop the area. There are currently 127 Unesco Global Geoparks in 35 countries. (6)
UNESCO Global Geoparks empower local communities with opportunity to develop the common goal of promoting the area's geological interests, historical trends connected to geology, or natural beauty. These geoparks are built with a grass roots prosses, involving all regional stakeholders. Dr. Manongi reported that the area gets approximately 600,000 visitors annually, about half of those local. This official registration is a chance to further local and national pride in the region and attract more international tourists. In many ways, the registration serves to validate an area, certifying it’s natural, historical and sustainable merits, so international visitors get an extra ‘feel-good’ boost for supporting a good cause and giving back to the local area. More pragmatically, the registration also provides greater international exposure. (6) Dr. Manongi and other regional leaders are hopeful that the new registration will
Two packs of gum. A cup of coffee at Starbucks. Three postage stamps. Less than one gallon of gas. Two bars of soap. What do all of these things have in common? They can all be purchased with $1.90 or less. (4) For just under 10% of the world population, this is also the minuscule amount that an individual must forge a living on each day.
October 17, 2017 marks the twenty-fifth anniversary of the United Nations’ International Day for the Eradication of Poverty, an annual effort to bring awareness to the plight of many in developing countries living in extreme poverty.
It is necessary (though challenging) to get past the numbers in order to comprehend what living on less than two dollars a day looks like. For Peter Mumo it meant a scant meal of boiled maize and beans once a day when he was a child growing up in Kenya. Mumo suffered from Malaria in addition to malnutrition. As a result, a large chunk of his family’s income was funneled into paying for his hospital bills. (1)
For Sham Bai in India, extreme poverty means raising a family alone. Her late husband, Jethuram, unable to access health care after being bit by a rabid dog, died from what in other countries is a treatable disease. More people die of dog bites in India than any other nation on earth. At least 30,000 people perish each year as a result of the disease. (2)
Extreme poverty for Shedrack at Saving Grace School means living a childhood without smiles. The reason? Malnutrition led to rickets, a softening of the bones, which resulted in knock-knee and missing front teeth. Embarrassed by his missing teeth, Shedrack would not smile. Unable to easily walk or run from the knock-knee, Shedrack was unable to play with the other children.
Extreme poverty exists in developed nations like the US too. Unbeknownst to many, 1.5 million Americans are living on less than $2 per day. Many sell their blood plasma to earn a little extra cash for necessities. An individual can earn up to $30 per donation and is able to give up to two times per week. (3) For Elva May Hicks in the Mississippi Delta, extreme poverty means trading in one necessity for another. By trading in her food stamps, she is able to make 50 cents on the dollar in order to keep her heat and lights turned on. (3)
The U.N.continues to set goals and work towards decreasing the number living in abject conditions. In 2000 the organization established its Millennium Development Goals which included halving extreme poverty by 2015. The good news - not only did they accomplish this goal, they met it five years early. The bad news - the easing of poverty was regionally uneven. In Africa, one in two still live in extreme poverty, more than four times greater than the world average. (5)
Next, the UN enacted its Sustainable Development Goals in 2015. This time the goal is to end extreme poverty everywhere by 2030. Much more ambitious than its predecessor, global income inequality and climate change also add to the challenge. (6)
At Saving Grace School, Shedrack is a success story. His mother’s diligence saving money led to surgery which corrected his legs. The meals provided by the school have led to better health for Shedrack including the growth of his front teeth. Today Shedrack smiles, runs and laughs with the other children.
The UN continues to work to ensure more successes like Shedrack’s. As you stop to fill your car with a tank of gas today or make a trip to the grocery store, take a moment to consider how far $1.90 will - or won’t - get you.
In Linda Sue Park’s 2010 novel, A Long Walk to Water, the plight of the rural female in South Sudan is underscored. Nya is an eleven-year-old girl whose daily task is to walk shoeless two hours one way to gather water. Her family’s survival depends on it. Though Nya is fictional she is based on a contemporary representation of children in South Sudan.
Park’s historical fiction novel, now read by school and reading groups alike, speaks to the concerns of the United Nations who in 2008 began a day of awareness, Rural Women’s Day, so that females like Nya do not continue to go unnoticed.
Consider the following statistics:
Aside from generating income and producing food, rural women have additional challenges and responsibilities with which to contend. Gender inequality. Child rearing. Vulnerability to violence. Added to that is climate change. As floods and droughts increase, women and girls increase their time collecting water and fuel. (Remember, Nya already spends four hours per day!) This means that women miss out on opportunities for education and income producing work. When spending one’s day on daily survival tasks, the plate for a woman becomes quickly and ironically full. Accordingly, the 2017 theme of Rural Women’s Day is “challenges and opportunities in climate-resilient agriculture for gender equality and the empowerment of rural women and girls.”
The challenges are visible, but what are the opportunities? Some estimates show that closing the gender gap could increase agricultural production by up to 20% in Africa, leading to an increased rate of climate-resilient agricultural practices. Closing this gap means implementing efforts to increase access for women to land, information, technology, financing, water and energy.
The UN is not alone in creating an awareness campaign to illuminate the struggles of the rural woman. An effort sprang up in Tanzania in 2016 among groups from 22 African nations. The Tanzanian Gender Networking Program, along with other organizations including Oxfam, ActionAid, and International Land Coalition, supported efforts of rural women to climb Mount Kilimanjaro, Africa’s highest peak. This initiative gave voice to rural women in many African nations who want a role in decisions about land and natural resources. A delegation of sixteen women, representing rural women, summited the mountain in October of 2016 carrying a charter of demands which they later delivered to organizational leaders including the UN secretary general.
Whether walking four hours each day to retrieve water in South Sudan, or climbing Africa’s highest peak in Tanzania, rural African women continue to steadfastly place one foot in front of the other on the path towards economic stability.
Park, Linda Sue. A Long Walk To Water. New York: Clarion Books, 2010.
Photo 1: By Oxfam East Africa - A mass grave for children in Dadaab, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=16001983
Photo 2: By CIAT - 2DU Kenya 86, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=30331271
Shedrack began attending Saving Grace in 2014, shortly after the school opened. When he began, he suffered from rickets, a softening of the bone caused by malnutrition, and had knock-knee as a result. He was also missing many teeth, and kept his mouth closed in embarrassment.
Because his knees bowed in, it was difficult for him to walk, run, and play like the rest of the children. His mother saved up to get him surgery to straighten his legs, which took him out of school for many months while they healed.
When Shedrack was finally able to return to school, he was behind his classmates in numerous capacities: motor skills, social skills, and academics. Shedrack kept to himself more than ever, and often didn’t participate in the lessons. He was still missing many teeth, and continued to be embarrassed by their absence.
As more funding became available, BTF began providing funds for school lunches in addition to the student’s daily porridge. This meant that students began receiving the proper nutrition they needed, with fruits, vegetables, and meats added to their diets. For many students, the school became the best source of nutrition available.
Being aware of Shedrack’s situation, Grace began keeping him after school to make sure he received a well-balanced dinner. In addition, she started giving him one-on-one lessons to get him up to speed with his classmates.
A few months ago, Shedrack began playing with the other students again. He is running, playing soccer, and rough-housing. This has enabled him to make some very close friendships with a few other students.
During the last exam period, Shedrack received an average grade of a B. For the first time, he is excelling in his studies.
The cherry on top came a few weeks ago, when Grace sent a photo of Shedrack smiling. His front teeth have finally come in after more than two years. He is strong and happy like a little boy should be.
Like many parents, instilling gratitude was among my early teaching moments. When one of my children was receiving an offering of some sort, I piped in with, “Don’t forget to say thank you!” And then repeated myself again and again and again until that recognition of gratitude became ingrained, and my child would repeat the two words himself.
Grown ups need reminders sometimes too. World Gratitude Day, celebrated each year on September 21, does just that. It cues us to acknowledge those things in our lives, large and small, for which we are grateful. This day of international reflection began in Hawaii in 1965 and was recognized by the United Nations Meditation Group beginning in 1977. At its best it can lead to a daily practice of reflecting on those positive things we have in our lives.
Gratitude is part etiquette, part kindness, part spiritual growth. Many believe that it leads to an increase in happiness. Psychologist Dr. Robert Emmons, considered by some the world’s leading scientific expert on gratitude, is one of those people. The practice of gratitude can increase happiness by 25%, according to Emmons. Studies have shown that grateful people reap many benefits. They tend to have more energy, are more resilient, and accomplish more. They are less likely to be depressed or lonely.
That is not to say that gratitude inoculates us from hard times. But rather it enables us to resist despair when those hard times inevitably occur. “Under crisis conditions, we have the most to gain by a grateful perspective on life. In the face of demoralization, gratitude has the power to energize. In the face of brokenness, gratitude has the power to heal. In the face of despair, gratitude has the power to bring hope.” Emmons says that gratitude is a choice, an attitude that endures through good and bad.
It’s not just emotional health that improves but also physical health. The Journal of Health Psychology reported that grateful people eat 25% fewer fatty foods and have better blood pressure readings than ungrateful people. Emmons, along with Dr. Michael McCullough, completed a study in 2003 in which they prompted people to list five sources of gratitude several times a week. The researchers reported an upward swing in their moods. The practice also resulted in the commitment of more time to exercise.
Helping others was yet another byproduct that Emmons and McCullough discovered in their study. It was this human connectedness and empathy that famous author Ann Patchett and her friend Elissa Kim experienced. During a trip to India, Kim witnessed extreme poverty and felt guilt for her comparative wealth. Later, Kim embarked on another journey of sorts to live without material items that she had previously taken for granted. In 2017, Patchett joined in and spent an entire year shopping free. She allowed herself to buy small personal items that she might need along with groceries but no clothes, jewelry, bags, shoes or other luxury items. Both women acknowledge a shift in their attitudes towards consumerism, a realization of how much they had and didn’t necessarily need. It seems that they experienced a new sense of gratitude.
Similarly, it was Felicia McKenzie’s trip to Tanzania in 2013 that six months later led to the creation of Brighter Tanzania Foundation and Saving Grace School. McKenzie, founder and executive director of BTF, worked as a volunteer teacher for three weeks in Tanzania. Her gratitude for this opportunity led her to reflect on the role of volunteers in Arusha. She realized that her own plane fare was equivalent to a year’s salary for a teacher in Tanzania. It is the reason that part of the mission of BTF is to support the local economy of Arusha and employ only Tanzanian residents.
As the original founders of World Gratitude Day realized, growing a grateful heart can lead to small changes such as a shift in an individual’s outlook and groundswells such as Saving Grace School.
Brighter Tanzania Foundation is a registered 501c3 nonprofit organization. Donations may be tax-deductible.
Phone: (608) 886-9160
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