By: Cassie Parkhurst and Katie Poch
After Cassie Parkhurst started The Tanzanian Education Project, she did fundraisers and presentations to spread the word about the help needed in Tanzania. One of her presentations was at Beaver Dam High School and Katie Poch was in the audience. She was only 17, but the presentation ignited a fuse in Katie that made her want to help. When she turned 20 and decided that she wanted to volunteer overseas, she remembered Cassie’s presentation, contacted her and their teamwork and friendship began.
Katie: Everyday as I arrived to work my shift at the Beaver Dam YMCA, I walked past a book drive box in the main lobby. It read The Tanzanian Education Project in big bold letters. At first I thought it was just the same as all the other book drives, but deep down this one seemed different, and I did not know why. At home, I dug out my childhood books that were packed away in dusty boxes in the corner of our basement. My mother and I sat in our den sorting the books one by one. Each book took us further down memory lane. We laughed about the good old days and it seemed too hard to part with them. While holding one of my favorites, Goodnight Moon, it finally struck me; The Tanzanian Education Project was different. I remembered being in the auditorium at my high school just a few months earlier with the girl who started the organization. Cassie Parkhurst who graduated in 2006, four years before me, had returned to give a presentation about her volunteer work in Africa. Aside from the many other presentations I sat through in that same auditorium, this one stuck with me. She seemed so passionate and excited about the children she was helping in Tanzania. Her enthusiasm was so contagious that it now felt okay to pack up and donate the books that were such a cherished part of my childhood.
Cassie: My organization, The Tanzanian Education Project, spent 2010 collecting, sorting and categorizing over 10,000 books, learning aids and sports equipment. Once our sea container was on its way, Teresa O’Neill, Eilieen Moeller and I went to Tanzania to receive the goods. We spent countless hours sweating at the port day after day working to get the container through customs and finally established a delivery date. I will never forget the help of over 400 volunteers and countless donors; without them this never would have been possible.
Words cannot describe the relief; the joy and utter excitement that we felt watching the truck come in with the container in tow. We strategically emptied the container of the large wooden crates. The rough wood with the crude letters that subscribed ‘donation’ seemed like the most unfitting package for what treasure lay inside. The process took longer than we had expected, as no machines were there to aid us. Instead, the sweat dripped from our brows as we pushed to beat the setting sun. We continued with our work by headlamp, as the blackness of night drew upon us, but that did not seem to dampen the anticipation. As the crates were lowered from the truck, one of the Masai guards used a crowbar to snap open the top of one of the crates with an ear-piercing creak. Everyone’s faces lit up and cries of elation filled the air. Shrills of excitement grew louder and louder as the books and paper were revealed. This is a moment I will never forget and one that I wish I could share with every volunteer, donor and supporter that worked so hard to make this happen.
Katie: I never dreamed that I would take three months of my life to volunteer in Tanzania but that idea took root during Cassie’s presentation in the high school auditorium back in 2009. When I arrived in Tanzania in the summer of 2012, my first impression of the school was complete shock. I could not believe how little they had. As I walked into the meager classrooms, my eyes scanned over the broken desks and lopsided chairs with disbelief. Each classroom showcased a single worn chalkboard with tattered rags that hung nearby for erasers. The dirty white walls stared back at me, showing only remnants of maps and learning aids. The bleak appearance was only disrupted by the life and energy of the students. It made me sad to know how much they must struggle everyday just to learn.
I was proudly told that this school had one of the best libraries, but from the look of the classrooms it did not seem possible that could be true. I was able to see into a small portion of the library through the iron grills and thick mesh window, but it seemed modest at best. It was not until the heavy wooden door creaked open that I saw how rich and prized this room really was. It has shelves and shelves of books from novels to textbooks and walls covered with learning aids and maps. Strong tables and sturdy chairs fill the space, a stark contrast to the desks the students use in their classrooms. This proper learning place surrounded by inadequate classrooms seemed so out of place.
It was clear once I began teaching, how essential these books were to my students’ curriculum and learning experience. To my dismay, I learned that many students’ first exposure to any book is at this school. One day when I was preparing my lesson in the library, I snooped through a box labeled ELA Nursery. To my surprise, I found many books I loved as a child. I started to page through them, thinking to myself about the day three years ago that I packed up books just like these. I fingered through them a little more and came across one that looked especially familiar. I opened the cover and saw my mother’s handwriting. I did not think it could be possible until my name popped out of the middle of the page; it read in black permanent marker Katie Poch. It seemed so surreal that my books had traveled halfway across the world to this East African library. I always knew it was important to share with those in need, but I never imagined how rewarding it would be to see the impact of such a small act of kindness. Words truly cannot describe the joy I felt knowing that these children who have so little would enjoy my books as much as I did and possibly cherish them even more.