STA alumna visits Kenya, helps social change program
By Bridgette Bonner, Hammond Daily Star
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Thursday, August 16, 2012 11:55 AM CDT
St. Thomas Aquinas alumna Malia Cali spent 10 days this summer in Kenya, where she helped build a school she raised money for the year leading up to the trip.
Through a leadership group, Cali became involved with a program called Free the Children while she was a student at the University of North Carolina. Because the university didn’t have much involvement with Free the Children, Cali took the idea and joined forces with students at other schools in a group called Student Athletes Leading Social Change.
While in Kenya, Cali was in an area with 98 percent illiterate women and 91 percent illiterate men, she said.
“So they needed a lot of help,” Cali said. “Free the Children tries to bring sustainable change to the community, so they help address issues with water and sanitation and present the people with alternative ways to earn income.”
Cali worked and lived like the Kenyans while she was there, to some degree. She slept in a tent with no electricity or running water and a hole in the ground serving as a bathroom, she said.
“They don’t have the luxury of turning on a faucet,” Cali said. “It made me grateful for what I have, but also made me realize how much I take for granted.”
Families there walk five hours to go to the market to buy food, she said.
“They grow their own food and they have cows for milk,” she said. “Depending on their budget, if something unexpected happens, they may sacrifice food and eat rice for every meal for weeks.”
Through building the school, Cali learned the schools are different in Kenya than America. The Kenya government will send one teacher per school, so rather than building a school with multiple classrooms, each school is only one class and students walk to different schools for different classes.
“That way each school, or class really, will have a teacher,” she said. “A lot of times education is given to us, and to them it’s a privilege and they know how important it is, so they’re excited about learning. We can all take a page from their book.”
The people in the Free the Children program teach Kenyans and people in their other locations to grow crops and usually put in a well so they will have fresh water, Cali said.
“That’s what makes the changes sustainable,” she said.
After her visit, Cali went back to her alma matter and spoke to St. Thomas students about her experiences. It sparked some interest, and now a few St. Thomas students are talking about getting groups together, she said.
“I’m excited to get the ball rolling,” Cali said. “The bigger it is, the more people we can help.”
Cali focused her speech at St. Thomas on making the students aware of what life is like in other places, she said.