SHARE in Africa | Teen Ink

SHARE in Africa

January 25, 2010
By shannonmcn BRONZE, Basking Ridge, New Jersey
shannonmcn BRONZE, Basking Ridge, New Jersey
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When my family and I traveled to Africa, I created something that has been life-changing for me—a program for girls called SHARE, which is an acronym for Shannon’s After-school Reading Exchange. SHARE is dedicated to empowering African girls through education to improve life for themselves, their families and communities. With SHARE I’ve been able to witness and make such amazing things happen.
My family and I traveled to Tanzania in July 2008 to volunteer with Global Citizen’s Network (GCN). Before I went, I asked the contact in Tanzania what the needs of the community were. He gave me a long list, and one dealt with educating girls. To fulfill my Girl Scout Gold Award Project we agreed that I would start an after-school program for girls. I spent a month collecting 1,200 children’s books and school materials in town.
We brought the donations with us on the airplane. A classroom was donated by the Kiteyagwa Primary School, which is in a rural village outside of Bukoba. With help from my fellow GCN volunteers, we spent a week cleaning, repairing and painting the room, as well as adding glass windows, a secure door, a bookshelf and signs. The school has no running water or electricity, and I won’t talk about the “bathroom” facilities!
Renovating the room was the easy part—the real challenge was to convince the parents to let their daughters join the SHARE program. Young girls in Tanzania struggle to become literate because they are expected to do the cooking, cleaning, farming and caring for siblings, instead of pursuing their studies. I spoke at three parent meetings, where the headmistress, Ms. Justina, now the SHARE coordinator, translated my words and then spoke about the importance of educating girls. While most parents agreed, several declined, preferring their daughters to come home and perform household chores instead.
Right now the SHARE program is a huge success, with 51 primary school girls learning to read English, exchanging ideas and working together to build a better future in a safe and secure classroom. I can’t wait to go there this summer, as I am planning on opening up a second SHARE room in another village school.
SHARE started off as my Girl Scout Gold Award, but it turned into something much bigger than I could have ever imagined. It’s a chance for me to really make a difference and change the lives of girls who are less fortunate than me—yet they have double the amount potential and determination of anyone I’ve ever seen. Being able to help these girls and see their smiles as they realize that they have a chance to improve their lives is worth more than anything I’ve ever known.
These girls are my heroes. They walk miles to school each day in their bare feet, have no food from when they wake up to after school when it’s dinner, and at school, there are 70 kids to a classroom, with five kids at a desk that should seat two.
That is why I am continuing my commitment to SHARE by involving the Basking Ridge community in New Jersey, which is so eager to help. We have done fundraising, book drives and I’ve given talks for local groups (girl scouts, boy scouts and churches). To date we have collected, sorted, labeled and shipped 21,000 children’s books to Africa. I’m amazed at how many students at my high school, and other people in town, are reaching out to help. It seems everyone feels a little connected to the plight of these girls in Africa.
When my family and I return to Africa for the 3rd time in July, I will be bringing with me the good wishes of everyone in my community.

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