We are proud of just how far of a reach we have as a collective Team and Family. Check out KIPP SHARP’s Dorothy Whitney’s email below about her experience in Tunisia.
My trip to Tunisia in December was my second trip to Africa this school year. As always I am amazed and overwhelmed by how much can be accomplished with such little resources. It is always a humbling experience to see how much we are given in the United States and how blessed we are to work for the wonderful organization of KIPP.
I am writing this to share with you about one specific event that took place on this trip. As I was walking with a friend through a small village, I saw a group of small children selling goods on the street. I was instantly attracted to them because they were all dressed alike and I quickly figured out they were representing a local school. I asked my friend if he would translate for me and help me to figure out how the money that was being raised would be used. We approached the group of about 15 children and were overcome with emotion as we looked at the beautiful intricate artwork that had been produced by these children.
We quickly learned that the children were ages 7 to 12 and were selling crafts to raise money for their scholarship fund. I immediately wanted to talk to their teacher or school leader to find out more about this project. A small child came forward speaking to me in English and asked me if we would like to see their school. We eagerly accepted and followed the child. This child, we later found out that his name was Hafez, took us on a tour of their four room school building in which they educate almost 200 students ages 7 to 12. The classrooms were small with no heat or air just open windows to cool the rooms. There were four or five tables in each room and a chalkboard at the front of each room. There were no textbooks or supplies, no computers, no phones, as a matter of fact, no electricity in this building.
The pride in these children’s faces and hearts was evident. I proceeded to ask the children about their studies and what materials they use. They explained they each had two notebooks of paper, pencils, and colored pencils that they carried to and from school with them daily. Core academics were four hours a day and then all students would move to the “pottery lab” where they would learn the art of Tunisian pottery. When we arrived at this pottery lab I was overwhelmed by the beauty and creativity of these young Tunisian children. The projects were like nothing I can even describe to you. They were making everything from decorative wall art to functional everyday bowls and cups. There was a combination of simple clay pots and ornate mosaic creations.
After some time we were united with a woman, who was the Headmistress of this school. She quickly greeted us and went about her work instructing children to move their pieces to the tables in front of the school for sale. Of course all of this was in Arabic. As my friend took a few moments to translate for me all that was going on, the woman quickly realized I was an international visitor. She warmly welcomed us again and asked if we could stay for a few minutes and wait for her to finish with the children. When she returned, I started asking her about their pottery sale. I explained that Hafez had told us that it was for their scholarship fund. I asked her if the proceeds from the sale supported the school as well or if students’ paid tuition.
The story she then told me I will remember as long as I live. She said the school was supported by a small grant that she gets from the Tunisian Ministry of Education, and unfortunately she can only afford to enroll 200 students each year who were taught by a faculty of three. Yes, three adults. She said that she is flooded with applications every year from families that would give everything they have for their child to attend this school. She then told me that she promises the families that every child that attends and graduates from her school will go to college. As I stood there speechless, I looked around the room thinking about our school and our mission. I was looking in the eyes of these young children and thinking to myself, “They are truly in love with life”.
Then she said something that caught my attention and I could no longer contain my emotion. She said there is a movement in the United States, you may have heard of it, it is called Knowledge is Power. She said I learned of this program when I visited a school in a difficult area of New York City two years ago as a graduate student. I knew when I came home to Tunisia I had to create something like this program here. She said it was not easy and it took a lot of fighting and she still hasn’t gotten there yet but what she is offering these few students is a first step. I have to tell you for me it was a surreal and out-of-body experience. I was in such awe I forgot myself for a minute, and it was my friend that spoke up and said, “Yes she does know this program, in fact here…” He reached into his pocket and pulled out the orange KIPP pen that I had given him just that morning to take with us for notes.
I then proceeded to tell her I was a Dean at one of these schools and how impressed I was that she heard the KIPP mission and went out on her own to recreate it. To do something for the innocent children of the world who do not get to choose what city, state, or country they are born into. We parted ways quickly after this because she needed to get back to her fundraising. I thanked her for this life lesson and of course we spent every cent we had on us to buy works from these children.