Cassie Parkhurst helps increase access to education in Tanzania
By Emilie Kastner ’10
A warm yellow sun rises and the children of Bunju A, a village near the eastern coast of Tanzania, ready themselves for school.
They walk miles on a dusty gravel road, their destination a simple tin-roofed shelter covering bare concrete floors. A few benches serve as desks. Once there, the children do their bests to concentrate, but their growling stomachs make it difficult since many families cannot afford to send lunch.
Cassie Parkhurst, a recent Winona State University graduate, is working to develop a solution.
During her second visit to Tanzania, which began in May, Parkhurst piloted the Garden Lunch Program. She and two fellow Winona State alumni, Eileen Moeller and Teresa O’Neill, are working with Bunju A’s teachers and children to cultivate a sustainable garden, so the schools will be able to provide nourishing and affordable lunches.
This project is costing just $250 to start. In addition, the trio plans to fund repairs to the village bus to transport local children to school. Both projects will help break down significant barriers to educating Bunju A’s children, and have a huge impact on its families.
Parkhurst, a law and society major, first visited Tanzania in 2009 to teach English. She learned that school costs were out of reach for many Tanzanian families, and saw firsthand the problems that a lack of education posed for the east African nation.
She launched the Tanzanian Education Project, a grassroots non-profit to support the growth of literacy and education. Since then, Parkhurst has raised more than $10,000. She has identified a number of goals for the project, including helping erect libraries stocked with books; paying wages of villagers to staff schools and libraries; providing learning tools such as computers, lab instruments, and sports equipment; and purchasing basic healthcare supplies such as bed nets, eyeglasses, and toothbrushes.
“People love ‘feel-good’ causes, but that isn’t what this is about,” said Parkhurst. “The long-term goal will be to integrate the books, get children to use them, and give them the skills to be successful.”
Like her Garden Lunch Program, Parkhurst is committed to ensuring the Tanzanian Education Project is sustainable. She hopes it continues to operate long after she has left Tanzania. More than 500 children could be affected through her organization, changing the quality of life for future generations.
Word of Parkhurst’s work has spread beyond the village limits of Bunju A. In April, she was honored with the Dr. Mark Welter World Citizen Award. She used the $500 scholarship to free up other funds for Tanzanian Education Project operating costs, all of which she had previously paid out of her own pocket.
Parkhurst, Moeller, and O’Neill will return to Minnesota in the early fall of 2010. Parkhurst plans to continue her education in a graduate program for international policy and human rights. She has been offered a $30,000 scholarship to Josef Korbel University in Denver, based on her humanitarian efforts in Tanzania.
Her future will continue to be shaped by her experiences in Tanzania. And, Parkhurst believes, the Tanzanian Education Project will build a legacy of opportunity and hope for the children of Bunju A.
Skelley Puts Pieces Together in Bangladesh
While Cassie Parkhurst was in Tanzania, Winona State senior Dustin Skelley was more than 4,000 miles and a continent away working to improve life in Bangladesh.
Skelley worked primarily as a grant writer in the capital, Dhaka, a metropolis with more than 13 million people known as the “City of Mosques.” He worked for BRAC, a non-governmental organization that battles poverty and injustice throughout the country. One of his successful grants, totaling about $60,000, went to train Bangladeshi police officers to better understand and protect the human rights of detainees.
Skelley knew little about Bangladesh, a south Asian nation nearly surrounded by India, when he heard about internship opportunities there from Cathy Jo Faruque, professor and chair of social work. His community health education major gave him little preparation about life in the country, so he read everything he could and made the decision to go.
“I had a good background in theory and planning basics at Winona State,” said Skelley of his experience. “But there’s nothing like having to find funding, coordinate, and implement a program that can change people’s lives. You learn to put the pieces of the puzzle together.”