Tanzania is not a typical vacation destination. Roughly double the size of California, it is one of the poorest countries in the world. But for one GW student, it was the perfect place to make a difference.
What started as a summer of volunteering for junior Jessica Schwartz evolved into a full-scale nonprofit organization benefiting the children of Moivaro, a village in Tanzania.
Schwartz, the vice president of a nonprofit called Bricks and Books: The Foundation for Learning in Tanzania, is only 20 years old, but she has already helped rebuild a school and establish local trade in the African country.
The Pittsburgh native spent the last two summers with her mother and sister volunteering through Cross-Culture Solutions, a nonprofit organization that places volunteers in developing countries. They worked in a government school in Arusha and quickly learned that basic amenities like classrooms and concrete structures were actually luxuries in the area.
Down the road, another mother and daughter, Mary and Ashley Speyers, were volunteering at the Moivaro Schoolhouse.
“Their school compared to ours just had nothing,” Schwartz said. “They had an all-dirt floor and it was a wood structure. It was such a shock.”
The five volunteers decided to form Bricks and Books and raised money to build a new school in place of the Moivaro Schoolhouse. They were inspired by a guard at their home base. who had told them a story of starting a school for his children that eventually branched into a community school.
“It was this amazing feat and (the guard) showed us if you want to make a better future for your kids you need to start with the foundation of education,” Schwartz said.
Over the past year the organization has raised $25,000 to build a new concrete building with windows and bathrooms. Working in conjunction with the guard they befriended, the team oversaw the construction through photographs from the United States. A local artist volunteered to paint educationally themed murals throughout the school, and the New Moivaro Foundation School was born.
This summer, Schwartz discovered that there was more work to be done.
“We found out that the school had been built to keep the kids off the street, to make sure they weren’t doing bad things, because these kids really had no future, no opportunities,” Schwartz said. “We wanted to create a foundation for the kids.”
Yet transforming the school into an intellectual haven was deterred by a lack of money. Tuition wasn’t properly collected and the schoolteacher received the equivalent of about $150 dollars over three years from a church unaffiliated with the nonprofit.
This hindered the school’s progress because the teacher had neither incentive nor access to resources, Schwartz said. To combat this, Bricks and Books created a system where those who could not pay tuition could pay in small increments.
Tuition was supposed to be about one American dollar a month, but many of the mothers of the children attending the school were unable to pay. So Schwartz helped them open stores where they could work a certain number of hours a week to pay the tuition, and the money would go directly to sustaining the school.
And the work is still nowhere near done. Current projects include building a new classroom for another, larger school in the area, getting the New Moivaro Foundation School accredited and holding afternoon English classes for the students’ mothers.
“I have trouble putting into words the overwhelming feelings I have felt to have the opportunity to help these families.” Schwartz said. “That the people of Moivaro came from nothing, and we truly helped them create a foundation for their future and that doing this kind of good for someone else, be it domestically or internationally, is possible for anyone.” n