When I started exploring Global Neighbourhoods in Twitterville, I never thought I would discover and connect with a Tanzanian chicken farmer turned educator. But there was Mama Lucy Kampton, smiling and warm, having dinner at our home in San Carlos, CA some 10,000 miles from her home on the rural edges of Arusha, Tanzania, not far from the legendary Mt. Kilimanjaro.
She had come to dinner with Stacey Monk and Sanjay Patel, the co-founders of Epic Change, best-known for producing Tweetsgiving, the annual grassroots fundraising campaign to benefit the children of Shepherds Jr, a school Mama Lucy founded for Tanzanian school children in a country whose government does not provide adequate schools.
Last year, Epic Change slapped together a last-minute, short notice campaign to raise money to replace the building Mama Lucy was using to school about 175 kids when the landlord decided to bulldoze the property. In a two-day period, using blogs and tweets to promote the effort, Epic Change raised about $11,000 from 372 people who gave about $30 each.
A new school was built and the kids, who now have their own Twitter account, engraved the Twitter handles of all 372 donors into a stucco wall at the new school. [You can talk to the kids on Twitter at @ShepherdsJr.]
My connection with all this is that I wrote about Epic Change and Mama Lucy in Twitterville and I often discuss Shepherds Jr and Tweetsgiving in my public talks.
This year, Tweetsgiving went global with a series of events all over the world, each scheduled close to the American Thanksgiving. This year, $30,000 was raised. The funds will be used to for classrooms, a library, cafeteria and a dorm. The former is needed because feeding these children is an essential part of what the school is about and the dorm is needed because several orphans attend Shepherds Jr.
The school is mostly dedicated to giving a good education. Last year it finished first in Tanzania out of 117 schools taking an achievement test, despite the fact that many of the other schools were long-established, privately funded and run by people with more academic credentials than Mama Lucy, who actually holds not formal educator's credentials. This year, Shepherds Jr has expanded to about 350 students, enabled mostly by Shepherds Jr.
Uneducated herself, Mama Lucy is bursting with passion about education for her kids. She has put three children through college. That is a journey that started when each was only six-years-old and Mama Lucy had to put them on a bus that traversed and navigated a poor excuse for a road into neighboring Kenya, where her kids would stay for six months to attend real schools.
None of us knew what to expect when our three guests arrived on a rainy night December night at our door, but we somehow found ourselves hugging and laughing and all talking at once. It was like meeting old friends for the first time and it was all because of social media and the book and we all just felt like we knew and understood each other and shared many of the same values.
Mama Lucy seemed to like our home, but what she liked best was the fire we had going and how it warmed our living room. She was in the Bay Area on part of a whirlwind trip, made possible by Epic Change and Tweetsgiving funds. She and Stacey had spoken in Amsterdam, the Bay Area and DC. In between were visits with friends of Epic Change and that included Paula and me.
Mama Lucy is essentially a shy and humble woman. She seemed more worried about her English than she needed to be. She told us a few stories with calm and dignity that showed not everyone treated her r these kids with much calm or dignity.
She told us about being treated in an insulting style by a Barclay's Bank clerk in Tanzania, who she had successfully taken on. " Some people come to Africa, but they don't seem comfortable being physically close to Africans. I don't understand why they come to where we live she told us.
It took a little prodding by Sanjay for her to tell us about an incident at a Tanzanian Game Preserve, where her son had arranged for four busloads of Shepherds Jr kids to visit. The buses of excited children arrived, but the pre-arranged entrance at the gate was denied and the kid were denied entrance.
It seems that some white visitors were enjoying lunch on the veranda and the Preserve administrator did not want to disturb his visiting guests. Apparently, people who had come to see wild animals would find the sight of African children disturbing to their digestive system.
The teachers asked if the kids, could just go in a few at a time, but the request was denied. They asked if it would be okay if the kids came in and promised to not speak. Request denied.
Stacey, at the time, was a volunteer assistant at the school and Mama Lucy asked her to go to talk to the official. Why Stacey? Because she had white skin as did the administrator. Stacey went, but the administrator hid from her. She could see him cowering in the shadows.
These were conversation that touched Paula and me. They were blended into a night where Mama Lucy revealed herself to be an overwhelmingly positive person, appreciating what so many people she has never met have done on behalf of her school project.
This trip was her first to Europe or the US. She visited with some misgiving based on experience such as she had at the bank and the preserve. But she has been touched by how well received she has been.
She does have one misgiving about the US. She thinks we could treat older people with greater respect. In her country, the title "mama" is a term of respect. Here, she sees children calling aunts and uncles by their first names and she considers that disrespectful. She also does not understand why children send off their parents to homes for the elderly. They should bring them into their homes where they can receive love as well as care. She has a point.
Meeting mama Lucy makes me want to do more to help her kids and Epic Change who is committed to finding and helping other Shepherds Jr-type situations.
There are many ways you can help Shepherds Jr. Here are a few that Stacey and I discussed:
- Money is always appropriate. The best/easiest is through EpicChange.org [link above]. It can be a modest amount. $30 goes a lot further in Tanzania than it does in say, San Carlos, CA.
- New Books. Mama Lucy is building a library. She would love culturally appropriate children's books. You can find her Amazon wish list here.
- Used books. Mama Lucy welcomes any child-appropriate books that your kids may be done with. Just ship to: Mama Lucy Kamptoni, Shepherds Junior School, PO Box 1888, Arusha, Tanzania.[no zip needed]. The bad news is that shipping is costly. he good news is that it is probably tax deductible, because Epic Change is a registered non-profit.
- Volunteer there. This story began with Stacey Monk being a volunteer teaching assistant. If you have time and inclination, or maybe some teaching talent, Mama Lucy welcomes your help for whatever time you wish to dedicate.
- Volunteer here. Epic Change is a grassroots international network. Contact Stacey at Epic Change or on Twitter [link above].