Laying a foundation that changes lives - including mine
Stuart Rogers, AmFam's product and field marketing director, reflects on his trip to Africa with nonprofit Pencils of Promise and what the program means to communities there – and to him, and how the support of American Family made it possible.
Fifty thousand dollars is a lot of money. I can't afford to write a $50,000 check (well, at least not one that any bank would cash). But, then again, is it? If I wrote you a check for $50,000, would you come to work tomorrow? I'm guessing for most of us, the answer is yes. Would it change the trajectory of your life? For hundreds of kids in rural Ghana, Africa, that answer is yes. And that $50,000 doesn't just change one child's life – but hundreds.
A year ago I challenged our leadership team to raise $25,000 to build a school. In less than two days, we did. Then, the American Family Insurance Dreams Foundation generously contributed more. In April, I found out I'd be representing American Family in Ghana to see the work that Pencils of Promise (PoP) is doing. Talk about humbling.
I made the 10+ hour flight from New York to Accra, Ghana, in September. It was life-changing and gave me confidence in how our donations are being used. Throughout the week, PoP walked us through their work from scouting a community requesting a school to inauguration of a school and results years after a school has been built. Here's what they focus on:
- Scouting: Most villages seeking a school have classrooms under trees or in buildings made of mud or sticks.
- Water, Sanitation and Health (WASH) program: In rural Ghana, kids miss one of every six school days due to poor sanitary conditions. The WASH program is designed to help them stay healthy and in school.
- Teacher Support: Imagine your first teaching job right out of college is at a school hours away from anywhere you've ever been and they speak a different tribal language (the official language of Ghana is English but there are over 25 tribal dialects). And you don't have access to continuing education or the latest teaching methods/resources. This program provides support.
- Self-Organized Learning Environments (SOLE): Most of us have great memories of reading with our parents or kids. In rural Ghana, that doesn't happen. Not only do most families not have books, schools don't either. SOLE puts e-readers into kids' hands.
- Construction: PoP requires local communities to provide 20 percent of their school's funding. Most communities can't provide funds, so they offer unskilled labor. Helping lay the foundation for a new school was one of the most rewarding parts of my trip.
- Inauguration: The entire community shows up along with local politicians and anyone else who knows about it to celebrate a new beginning for their community. They play music, dance, put on skits and celebrate.
After my trip, it's impossible to be unchanged. The people are incredibly giving, even in conditions most of us would consider unlivable. My biggest realization was that every child I encountered was born with as much potential for curing cancer, solving world hunger or making the next great scientific discovery as my sons. They just need the opportunity to unlock that potential.