Learn Locally, Act Globally
By Stephen Mease
Seven Champlain College students and one staff member followed their dreams of helping others all the way to Africa in May, when they spent three weeks volunteering and tutoring orphaned children in Bagamoyo, Tanzania.
Beth Fitzgerald, Champlain’s student activities coordinator, and the students taught children a range of subjects at the Imani, Upendo na Matumaini Center for Orphans and Vulnerable Children (IMUMA). The experience had a profound impact on Fitzgerald. “Bagamoyo means ‘Lay down your heart,’” she says. “That is exactly what I did in this small town filled with such loving and needy people.”
The trip’s chief organizer was Elisha Kottler ’10, who had visited IMUMA through a volunteer organization in 2008. A Social Work major from Westborough, Massachusetts, Kottler (pictured at right) was eager to reacquaint herself with life and learning in the developing world. “I felt like I was doing so much for the children just by volunteering my time,” Kottler says of her first trip to IMUMA. “They were giving me so much as well. It’s such a great experience to learn from kids who grow up without all these material things but who still have these amazing values. I wanted Champlain College students to be able to share that with me.”
With her knowledge of Swahili and experience in the field, Kottler arrived ahead of the Champlain crew to firm up final details: purchasing a cell phone, settling into a guest house, and finding out what IMUMA needed that her peers could bring—videos, for example. Kottler recalls the IMUMA children’s delight in watching The Lion King, especially when they heard Swahili spoken in the movie.
Prior to visiting Tanzania, Kottler had worked on a volunteer project in Belize through her high school. As a Champlain student, she ventured to the Gulf Coast region to work on a Habitat for Humanity project and has been mentoring a boy from Togo, West Africa, for several years. She is also president of Champlain’s chapter of STAND, a student led anti-genocide coalition.
Joining Kottler ’10 on the trip were Laura Greaney ’11 of Mystic, Connecticut, an Early Childhood Education major; Amanda Mahony ’12 of East Durham, New York, a Public Relations major; Shannon Maguire ’09 of West Milford, New Jersey, a Graphic Design major; Lindsey Ganslow ’09 of Wells, Maine, a Secondary Education History major; Marguerite Dibble ’12 of Landgrove, Vermont, a Game Art & Animation major; and Brodie Henry ’10 of Fairfield, Connecticut, an International Business major.
To finance the trip, the students held raffles and tapped a grassroots funding network. They also raised enough money to make a financial contribution to IMUMA, where “a little goes a long way,” as Kottler notes, and where attending a secondary school costs roughly $250 a year, $100 per year for primary school—well beyond the means of many.
Kottler and Fitzgerald are already planning return trips to Tanzania, both with plans to extend their work over longer periods of time (see “Forever Young,”). With the career goal of running a nonprofit organization, Kottler is applying to the Peace Corps. Her drive to help those in need can be summed up in the Bagamoyo facility’s name. “Imani, Upendo na Matumaini translates to faith, hope, and love,” she says. “These are the things we would like to bring to these children. Faith that there are compassionate people in this world who care about them; hope for their future; and, of course, the love and care they all deserve.”