STU alumna supporting African education

St. Thomas alumna Patricia Ellsworth is raising money to help build a school for hundreds of Zambian children who can’t access education. She and other Canadian volunteers started a non-profit organization called Friends for Zambia, which has raised almost $1 million for the project.

(Submitted)
(Submitted)

Ellsworth recently announced Canadian donors will sponsor 33 students, up from 23 last year, at the Twitti School that opens its doors for its third academic year in January. The school has plans to build a kitchen-lunchroom to feed the children and provide a lunch-time shelter for the rainy season with funds raised.

Ellsworth first visited the Southern African nation when she graduated from STU with her husband in 1969. She wanted to experience what it was to be a teacher.

She said it changed her life.

“It made me want to continue in education,” she said. “I loved the interplay with the students and arguing about points of grammar.”

After spending two years in Zambia, she came back to Canada, earned an education degree at UNB, and continued working as a teacher in the Oromocto High School.

“We went there thinking we would change the world,” she said. “Once you start working, you realize the only thing you can do is your own work.”

She retired 30 years later and received an award for excellence in teaching.

That same year, Simon Maonde, one of her coordinators in Africa, wrote a letter asking her for help to build the Twitti School.

“Simon Maonde was the headmaster,” she said. “From him I learned a great deal about what it was to be a teacher.”

She would go to catechism classes and collect money with the children of the community. She did bake sales and contacted people around Canada who could help her.

“The first to accept the idea was the parish council,” she said. “My approach was those grassroots.”

There are six million school-aged children in Zambia, but the country only has 8,000 schools. More than one million children cannot access education, and 47 per cent who enroll in primary school never finish it.

The Twitti School opened in July 2012 in the village of Lilayi. Four hundred children go to classes there, from kindergarten to Grade 7.

It has three buildings, a water well, a library, a basketball court, buses and administration offices.

They emphasize educating girls since they take a big role in furthering the Lilayi economy. They also help orphans who’ve been affected by HIV in their families.

Ellsworth believes the school is key for the development of the community.

“Many of these children will become the leaders of this community,” she said. “They will become lawyers, doctors, teachers, mothers.”

She’s planning to host the annual Twitti School book sale at George Martin Middle School in May. The money raised will be sent to the school to be spent on the teachers’ needs.

“There’s something about Africa. When you go once, it never leaves you,” she said.

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