Remembering How it Began: 5 Years of Giving Back in East Africa
This is a guest post from Amy Wendel, Founder & Director of Project MEMA
“You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself in any direction you choose. You’re on your own, and you know what you know. And you are the guy who’ll decide where to go.” – Dr. Suess
It was November 2009 and I was packing my bags for a return flight to Boston after completing a month-long volunteer stretch teaching English and math at Magereza Nursery School in Karanga Village, Moshi, Tanzania. The afternoon was warm. It followed a rainy, mud-filled morning at Magereza, and I had everything packed in my bags except my brown leather sandals that had accumulated more mud than one can imagine. East African mud is like the clay you would find being turned on a pottery wheel – dense, rich in color and ever so sticky. Many of my co-volunteers opted to pitch their muddy shoes in the trash. They seemed ready to move on, stash their memories in a journal and return to their lives back home. Sitting on the porch for the last time, looking at my sandals, I felt the weight of a difficult decision – I could simply toss my sandals in the garbage as many others had done, or I could spend my last free hour in Moshi cleaning out each crevasse of each sole with a stick from the nearby garden.
I realized in that moment that something was different about me. I wasn’t ready to move past my experience. I envisioned myself returning to help the students I’d come to love. My time with them had changed me. I knew I would need those sandals again, and what may seem like a simple decision to clean a pair of shoes altered my life forever. Inspired by the dedication of local teachers and students, I sought to find a solution to improve student educational experiences and outcomes while strengthening the local community in Moshi.
Soon after I returned to the United States I conceptualized a non-profit organization that would assist the students in Moshi by providing basic supplies, money for school fees, and nutritional supplements. In 2010 I founded Project MEMA (Making Education in Moshi Accessible), a Boston-based 501©(3) registered public charity, which seeks to enrich the lives of children by promoting education and healthy living in Moshi, Tanzania, East Africa.
Project MEMA believes that education can change the face of Tanzania and lift children and their families out of poverty. There are many conditions affecting the ability of children to attend school. Poor nutrition, inadequate and poorly supplied schools, and lack of funding for primary and secondary education are a few of the obstacles faced by children and families. Project MEMA targets these issues by providing sponsorships to primary and secondary students, and school lunches, classroom supplies, uniforms, and school enhancement projects to nursery schools in Moshi.
May 5, 2015 marks Project MEMA’s 5th anniversary and as of this date we have raised $100,000 allowing our Boston and Tanzania teams to improve the lives of over 650 healthy, bright children in East Africa.
My brown sandals have accompanied me on 8 trips to Tanzania. The children I hold so dear to my heart have taught me to care for them as if they were the only pair I would ever wear. These sandals helped steer me toward a life of giving in Tanzania. Project MEMA now supplies a pair of shoes annually to all of our nursery school students. With just this little bit of help, and access to education, they have a much better chance at a future in which they too can “decide where to go.” Join us at www.projectmema.org.
Amy Wendel’s bio:
Amy Wendel founded Project MEMA in 2010 after spending October 2009 in Tanzania volunteering with the U.N. affiliated organization Cross-Cultural Solutions. She currently serves as Managing Director of Project MEMA – overseeing operations in Boston, MA and making regular trips to Tanzania. Wendel is also currently Program Manager, Customer Engagement Marketing at LogMeIn located in Boston’s Innovation District. Wendel holds a Bachelor of Arts from Northeastern University and a Master of Liberal Arts from Harvard University.
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