A Visit to Africa Turns Into a Mission for West Hartford Woman
"What started as a family safari in Africa turned into something so big and so meaningful, and it has affected so many lives," said West Hartford resident Ashley Washburn.
In 2006, the Washburn family spent their vacation taking a safari in Tanzania. That was when Washburn began to fall in love with the country and its residents. "I wasn't ready to come home," she said.
She immediately started researching opportunities to return to Africa, not as a tourist, but as someone who could make a meaningful difference in others' lives. She initially planned to work with the Virginia-based agency Five Talents – which has a mission "to empower the poor by promoting innovative savings and microcredit programs, business training and spiritual development," and was going to teach marketing in Kenya. However, in early 2007, Washburn's own health issues intervened, and she couldn't make the trip. (Read More Here...)
Water Sources, College Visits and Building Plans on November Trip
Ashley Washburn returned to Tanzania for five days in late November. This time she brought along two students from the University of Vermont who are involved in the "Engineers without Borders" (EWB) program. "The trip was so successful, and it's amazing that we could accomplish so much in just five days," said Washburn.
She was there over Thanksgiving, which she celebrated with her fellow volunteers and the family of her Tanzanian friend, Mama Sophia.
During that whirlwind trip, Washburn took 24 of the Bagamoyo Secondary School "Students Empowering Students" group on their one and only college tour – to the University of Dar Es Salaam. "Their eyes were just bulging out from excitement," said Washburn. The students will graduate from secondary school in February, take their exams, and then she'll know how much money is needed for them to attend university. She is already raising money for that tuition, and told the students that she wanted to be there for their college graduation. (Read More Here...)
'Students Empowering Students' Becomes More Than a Pen Pal Program
"At the same time, I had this crazy idea that kids might want to write letters to each other," said Ashley Washburn as she continued to describe the goals of Asante Sana for Education.
In Tanzania, classes in primary schools are typically taught in Swahili. Students may study English in a separate class, but since few teachers are fluent, learning the English language is a struggle. Once students reach secondary school (comparable to our 7th grade), classes are taught exclusively in English, with Swahili as a separate course. The transition is difficult for those who don't already have a strong background in English.
Washburn thought that a pen pal program would help the Tanzanian students with their English, while at the same time educating their U.S. counterparts about Tanzanian life and culture. Washburn had students at the Mwanamakuka and Kaole primary schools write letters in English. She also took photos of each of the children and paired them with the letters, which she then carried back to the United States. In all, there were about 80 letters from students and their teachers to be answered. (Read More Here)
KO-Tanzania pen pal program evolves into ‘Students Empowering Students
Kingswood Oxford School’s pen pal program with primary school students in Tanzania is going strong and growing, expanding into a program called “Students Empowering Students.”
KO board member and parent Ashley Washburn started the letter-exchange program last spring, when 33 KO 6th-graders responded to letters and photos she had brought back from a recent trip to Africa. She then delivered the KO students’ letters during the summer, when she returned to Tanzania with three area students and a teacher from Glastonbury.
While there for three weeks in June and July, Washburn realized that it would be good to involve secondary school students with translating the letters. The older students helped the younger students, working together to decipher the news from the other side of the world, which resulted in a positive experience for all involved. “The bonding between the secondary and primary students was amazing,” Washburn said. She said she came up with the name “Students Empowering Students” when she returned home from the trip and explained to people “how they were helping and empowering each other.”
In Tanzania she also shared a June 3 copy of the West Hartford News that featured a story about the pen-pal program. She said the teachers there were “thrilled” to see the story and the accompanying photo, which featured four of their students, in a paper from the United States. “I left a bunch of copies,” Washburn said. “I left them to show the kids who were in it. All they want is for people to understand where they are in their lives.”
Washburn plans to get the next set of return letters from the Tanzanian students this week, when she meets up with an African professor visiting New England. When she brings the letters to KO, she hopes to involve not just the 7th-graders, who participated in the spring, but also the current 6th-graders. (Read More Here...)
K-O 6th-graders become pen pals with students in Tanzania
Thirty-three Kingswood-Oxford School 6th-graders now have pen pals in Tanzania, thanks to K-O board member and parent Ashley Washburn.
It all started back in 2006, when Washburn and her family went to Kenya and Tanzania on safari. It was the latter that really had an impact on her. “I fell in love with the people of Tanzania,” she said.
Since 2008, the West Hartford resident has returned to Tanzania several times, sometimes taking some of her four sons – three current K-O students and one K-O graduate – with her. They have visited primary and secondary schools, which are run-down and desperately in need of repairs and supplies.
Sparked by what she witnessed during her trips, Washburn founded Asante Sana for Education, an organization dedicated to educating students and teachers in Tanzania. Her plans include constructing new dormitories at a secondary school in the fishing village of Bagamoyo and building a new primary school in the farming village of Kifude, about 20 kilometers away.
Washburn’s eldest son, Jack, a 2008 K-O graduate and sophomore at the University of Vermont, helped secure the involvement of UVM’s Engineers Without Borders (EWB) to help get a well and water in Kifude and to examine the water issues at the secondary school. Washburn said she hopes the EWB group will travel to Tanzania before the end of the year, perhaps in August.
The pen pal idea came out of Asante Sana’s goal of educating students, particularly in the English language. She explained that Tanzania’s primary schools (essentially kindergarten through 6th grade) are taught in Swahili, with English offered as a course. “Most of the teachers there don’t know English,” Washburn said. (Read More Here...)