“Only the educated are free.”–Epictetus
After returning from Kenya I was bombarded with comments and questions about why I was advocating for individuals in Africa rather than here in the United States. It prompted the post, “We Have It In Us To Do Both”. My feelings are the same today (two years later) and I have been fortunate to become friends with Christine Catlett who is living proof that we can make a difference both here and in Africa. I believe all of the mid-life moms (by that I mean 30s, 40s, 50s) reading this post will be inspired by Christine’s Story.
For those of us who left the professional world for the parent-at-home career, there comes a point when the youngest is in school all day that space is created to contemplate doing something personally fulfilling that is separate from them. I embraced being a ONE Congressional District Leader and Christine Catlett chose to become a Guardian ad litem—translated ‘guardian during litigation’. Basically a Guardian ad litem is the advocate for the child who has been removed from a home by social services. It takes a special person to take on this role! After volunteering a few years Christine became a trainer for their organization under a time restricted grant. It is easy to know the (com)passion she has for these kids—it radiates from her and being able to train others for the role was an opportunity she welcomed.
Christine’s story then takes a turn—in the direction of Africa (Kenya to be exact). When the grant ended for the training program she felt like she needed an adventure and something just for her. Through a friend she learned about a non-profit that coordinates volunteer opportunities abroad. Christine was going to the Dago Village in Southwestern Kenya and she was going SOLO! Now it is no secret that the ONE Moms trip to Kenya changed the lives of everyone involved and the experience was no different for Christine. She returned with the same emotions and thoughts that we all had—a deep rooted desire to take action. Our ONE Moms post trip involved numerous media events as well as meetings on Capitol Hill and the White House. We created a movement that has since led to a second ONE Moms trip to Ethiopia and the creation of ONE Mums in the United Kingdom. Christine left Dago Village with an aim to educate every single child in that village and she is well on her way through the creation of the non-profit One Way Out.
The first time Christine and I met for coffee/tea I knew that our enthusiasm for changing the world matched. While in this village witnessing the beauty and poverty all woven together, she knew in an instant that if ALL of the young people in this village received an exceptional education the situation would be different. After returning home she started talking to her friends about what she wanted to do and they wanted to be part of helping Christine fulfill her wish. Christine returned to Kenya several times building relationships and meticulously choosing the school with the highest standards that was graduating students with National level scores on the KCPE (standardized test similar to SAT). Then through One Way Out began a sponsorship program. Sponsorship candidates are between 5 and 14 years old and placed in Preschool through Class 8. After reading their stories you chose a child and commit to fund their education through high school. The fees for preschool are $65/year and for Class 1 through Class 8 it is $625 the first year and $525 every year after. High School fees are determined after the scoring of the standardized test. The primary school students attend Sirua Aulo Academy and your sponsorship provides them with all school fees (including enrollment and examination fees), textbooks, pens, pencils, paper, full room and board, uniform (two complete sets including tie and socks), one pair of black school shoes, and most importantly a life-changing education! Currently there are 40 students being sponsored in primary school, 50 supported at the preschool, and many more waiting for someone to hear their story. The relationships built between the sponsor and their students are really touching. They write letters and send pictures. The outpouring of gratitude is how you know your gift is making a difference.
In addition to the sponsorship there is also a merit based Headstrong Scholarship awarded to a non-sponsored female student each year. Research is clear that investing in women and girls makes the greatest impact. However Christine and I share the same feelings that are only made more evident after a crisis like the one in Nairobi, Kenya last week—it is crucial that we reach our young boys with a quality education giving them the tools needed to create professional lives free of hate and violence.
Ever since I met Christine I have envied her ability to create an organization that is making such a difference. My impact has been through sharing stories and inspiring others to use their voice. Her influence has been completely action driven. It reminds me of the Proverb quote: “Some people make things happen, some watch things happen, while others wonder what has happened”. Christine definitely knows how to make things happen! I am so grateful that my path has crossed with hers.
As I wrap up this post (yes it is long, but for such a vital cause), I will leave you with this passage to ponder:
One morning an elderly man came upon a boy surrounded by thousands of starfish. As eagerly as he could, the youngster was picking them up and throwing them back into the ocean. The old man chuckled and said, Son, there are thousands of starfish and only one of you. What difference can you make? Gently tossing the starfish into the water, the boy said, It will make a difference to that one!