A life with little to no hope for school and education is something most students at TCU cannot imagine. Yet, while he was interning in Rwanda last summer, Zack Siegert discovered this is the life of thousands of children in the impoverished country.
The senior finance major at TCU spent some of his time teaching English to children at an orphanage. Their passion to learn, he said, astonished him. After returning to Texas, Siegert found an opportunity on Frog Jobs to make even more of a difference.
Jacob Watson, a TCU alumnus and member of the board of directors for the nonprofit organization Achieve in Africa (AIA), posted an ad on the TCU job locater site looking for student ambassadors to help him raise money for AIA. The program fundraises to build schools in Africa, and Watson said almost all funds raised go directly to educational advancements in rural Tanzania. The rest of the money, about 5 percent, is used for administrative funds.
Siegert is working with one other student, sophomore Hannah James, as ambassadors to raise awareness on campus about AIA’s cause. They are holding a book drive starting Dec. 2 through Dec. 13 with the ultimate goal of raising $15,000 to bring to Tanzania.
Students often sell their textbooks back to the bookstore “for maybe $50 total,” Siegert said, but if they donated these books to AIA, their money could go much further than that.
Boxes for books will be dropped in all first-year residence halls, two Greek houses and the bookstore. They will sell the books to the company Half Price Books and then send that money overseas. Watson said sending the money to Africa is the main difference between what they’re doing and what other book donation programs do, as other programs typically send the books directly overseas.
Siegert said he wishes he had the time and ability to sit down with every student on campus to talk about his experience in Africa and how everyone could make a difference in simple ways. Instead, he will rely on the book drive to start conversations about building awareness.
AIA has the full support of a Rwandan student studying abroad at TCU. Marie Yvonne Mukamudenge Umugwaneza, who goes by Yvonne, said she understands how difficult it is for many African children to find access to education.
“Many people don’t have financial means to send their children to school,” she said. “Or schools don’t have appropriate materials, which are some of the biggest barriers for developments in Africa.”
Umugwaneza said her home country of Rwanda has made advancements toward better education over the past 20 years, which is why she has had the opportunity to study abroad.
“There were no skills to explore whatever was available out there,” she said. “A very small number of people could afford the high education either in the country or outside.”
She said she hopes to help more students from Africa receive the same opportunities she has.
A program similar to AIA touched Watson during his senior year at TCU five years ago and he fell in love with the idea of giving back, he said. He said he feels students at TCU today will receive the cause with full hearts and a willingness to give, the same way he did initially.
“It’s a wonderful cause and the money raised will truly change the future of a hopeful community,” he said.
AIA’s vision is ultimately to enhance education in Africa, as “education can alleviate poverty, hunger, and the AIDS epidemic in Africa,” according to the website. The founder, Brendan Callahan, first went to Tanzania on a mission trip in 2007 and was moved by the children’s enthusiasm for knowledge despite the lack of resources provided for expansion. He founded Achieve in Africa a year later.
Now, partners all over the world help campaign with AIA for its cause to further African education.
Completed and in-progress projects led by AIA include the refurbishment of outdated schools, construction of new ones, and provision of desks and school supplies for the Tanzanian children.
According to AIA’s website, a classroom can be built for $11,000 and a desk can be built for $50. The funds raised by AIA go directly to these expenditures. Any volunteers wishing to go overseas to help must pay their own way in order to ensure that the majority of funds go toward the cause.
“The problem now is not that children in Africa do not want to learn,” Siegert said. “But they don’t have the necessary resources and facilities to learn effectively.”
This book drive, the first of what Watson thinks will become a per-semester fundraiser, could be a step in that direction.
Although these people in Africa face discouraging circumstances, Watson said, they aren’t all that different from any other person.
“Each person has a heart, a dream and a desire to bring good to his or her community,” he said. “I want us to stop thinking of Africa as a distant place filled nameless faces. That’s my hope.”
Update: This story was updated on Wednesday, Dec. 11 at 4:22 p.m.