Mary M., Rising From Hardship

We’re continuing a series of short profiles about our students, their lives and what their educations mean to them. Here’s another example of a young person who wants to use her education to make a difference in the world. 

Mary M.

Mary M., a seventeen year old from Zambia, understands intimately how circumstance can change the shape of a life. She points to specific factors that impact quality of life and educational opportunities for her and her peers: poor housing facilities, poor water supply, bad sanitation conditions, teenage pregnancy, early marriage and high levels of poverty. She’s got a mind for public policy and has big dreams—she wants to “eradicate poverty levels at home and in my community.”

Mary’s impressive goals have a painful origin. When she was eight, her father died. She describes that time as being “like a nightmare.” Not only did she lose her beloved Daddy, but his death had ramifications beyond her terrible grief.

Her father had supported the family and paid the kids’ school fees. But with him gone, money ran low. Mary’s mother, who has a disability, could not get a manual labor job. Mary and her six siblings began to see their futures slip away. Mary was forced to drop out of school for a year.

But then things started to turn around. Mary learned about our partner KnowledgeBeat, which renewed her hope for her future. She took and passed her grade nine exams. Through TSF she was able to secure a spot in the school of her choice. And she’s doing well, dedicating her time to learning and “planning for my future of becoming a lawyer.”

Sometimes, many times, our greatest leaders find their beginnings in hardship. They suffer or see others suffering, and in trying to make sense of that experience, start down a path toward making the world a better place. Mary is well on her way toward creating a better life for herself, but her commitment to changing her community’s cycles of poverty speaks to something greater.

As Mary studies, we see one of Zambia’s future leaders coming of age.

Learn more about Mary and support her education through The School Fund.

A Story of Two Marcias

We’re continuing a series of short profiles about our students, their lives and what their educations mean to them. Here’s another example of the opportunity one of our students found, once she had the support to continue her studies. 

Marcia G.

Marcia G. was an only child and grew up in Quito, Ecuador, in two-room living quarters attached to the house where her mom served as domestic help. Her mother’s employer—also named Marcia—helped raise the young girl, treating her almost like her own daughter. Marcia was her namesake afterall, and the older Marcia invested her time in helping the younger Marcia with her studies. She was her teacher, her mother’s boss and a surrogate caretaker.

But then in 2007, the elder Marcia died suddenly. It was a personal loss complicated by additional hardship. The elder Marcia had made no provisions for the then twelve-year-old girl. The situation left Marcia’s mom jobless; mother and daughter were homeless.

Marcia’s mother suffers from multiple disabilities and had trouble finding work. With no family to help and now all alone in Quito, mother and daughter rotated from house to house each night. It took until a year after Marcia entered high school for her mom to secure a job.

That, fortunately, was a time of dramatic turn-around. This was also when Marcia began to receive support from The School Fund, by way of our partner The Condor Trust for Education.

In 2012, Marcia graduated from high school, but her success doesn’t stop there. Marcia is now studying Tourism & Hotel Administration at the Instituto Cordillera in Quito (with continuing support from Condor Trust). She dreams of working in the tourism industry in Ecuador, of eventually going abroad herself. She longs to see more of the world. As part of her coursework, she’s already getting to travel to new parts of Ecuador—a thrilling experience for a young woman who had never before left Quito.

She hopes to eventually earn enough to lift her mother and herself out of poverty, and in the meantime, Marcia serves as mentor and inspiration for younger Condor Trust students. She wants to show them exactly how much one person is able to achieve, given the opportunity to receive an education.

Forced to Drop-Out: A Girl Still Dreams of Becoming a Teacher

Today, we continue a series of short profiles about our students, their lives and what their educations mean to them. So often, we tell our supporters that they have changed a life. “Education is opportunity,” has become our tagline. It’s all absolutely true. Here’s what that truth looks like from the perspective of our students.


It’s heart-wrenching to lose your mother. But for Krishna D., her mother’s death was a double blow.

A young girl living in India and the only remaining female in the family, women’s responsibilities now fell to her. Krishna’s father was more inclined to spend his money on educating her two brothers than on sending Krishna to school. After all, he reasoned, she would eventually get married and in the meantime someone needed to tend to the house now that her mother was gone.

Still dealing with the grief of losing her mother, Krishna watched as her brothers left each day for school, while she stayed home to cook and clean for the family.

Krishna had long dreamed of becoming a teacher. Instead, she was forced to drop out, and as she managed the family home over the course of two years, she felt that dream slip farther and farther from her grasp.

This is when Krishna met with some of our partners from Milaan, whose Swabhiman Programme focuses on dropout girls in rural Uttar Pradesh. It’s a program that not only helps young women transition back into school but also offers support to help, when necessary, to persuade families that educating their daughters is feasible—and worthwhile.

With help from Milaan and financial support from The School Fund’s donors, Krishna headed back to school. Thus far she’s been able to pass her Class X (grade 10) examination. Just as important, her confidence has been restored and her dream of becoming a teacher again feels within her reach. It’s a dream not just about her own future—but one of improving her community through education. If anyone understands education’s value, its inherent ability to change lives, Krishna does.

Mosqoy Holiday Match!

Starting December 18th, The School Fund’s donors will double their impact. When donations are given to any student on TSF’s website, our partner Inner Fire Yoga Apparel will match that same amount and donate up to $3,000 total to our Mosqoy students in Peru!


Here’s how the match will work:

  • Any donation made to a student on The School Fund website—starting December 18that 12:01 am PST and up to $3,000 total—will be matched by Inner Fire Yoga Apparel with a donation to a Mosqoy student.
  • Donations will be matched at 100%, meaning a $40 donation to any student on The School Fund website triggers an additional $40 donation to a Mosqoy student. If the original donation is to a Mosqoy student, the donation doubles (but not necessarily to the same Mosqoy student).
  • Matching funds will be distributed among Mosqoy’s students based on need at the end of the match campaign.
  • If funds exceed Mosqoy students’ total need for the current funding cycle, we will devote excess matching funds to Mosqoy students’ following funding cycle.
  • Matching funds for the current funding cycle will be applied within two weeks of Match Day.
  • Only online donations will be matched.

Mosqoy is dedicated to promoting educational and cultural rights for Andean communities in Peru. On average only four percent of Quechua youth continue their studies at a technical institute or university (compared with a national average of 43 percent). Theirs is a culture that is threatened by a steady flow of tourists and a government that local communities describe as corrupt and neglectful. But through The School Fund, Mosqoy students get the opportunity to pursue their educational dreams and prepare to rebuild their communities.

Teaching is her “Perfect Match”

Today we’re beginning a series of short profiles about our students, their lives and what their educations mean to them. So often, we tell our supporters that they have changed a life. “Education is opportunity,” has become our tagline. It’s all absolutely true. Here’s what that truth looks like from the perspective of our students.

Pammi Singh

Pammi Singh is from a big family—one of seven supported by her father, a farmer. Together they live on about 25000 Rupees (roughly $460) a year.

After Pammi finished primary school, her father could no longer afford her educational expenses. Instead he started looking for a “perfect match” for her. In some ways, that outcome would have made her much like her peers. In India, 47 percent of girls are wed before adulthood; 18 percent are married before they turn 15. These young brides often show signs of sexual abuse, post-traumatic stress, are twice as likely to report being beaten, slapped or threatened, and often experience depression.

But Pammi wanted more. Fortunately, she found a program run by TSF partner Milaan that helps girls who have dropped out get back into school and prepare for their Class X (tenth grade) exams. She knew her father would not spend another penny on her education, and says that only made her more determined to enroll in the program.

It was a turning point.

Today, with the help of her teachers and the support from TSF funders, Pimma has passed those exams and aspires to be a teacher one day, so that she can spread the importance of girls’ education to her community. She wants every girl to fight for this right.

A Summary Report of the TSF Summer 2014 EDVenture Trip


By Maho Amos – TSFTZ Chief Operation Officer in Tanzania 

Excerpted by the Blog Editor

The trip began when the US TSF team travelled from Karatu to Iringa on June 24th, 2014. With a midnight curfew in Iringa, the police blocked all roads within 10 miles of town. After being stopped and questioned by the police and with much begging and pleading on our part, we finally were allowed to go.

All students and teachers arrived at Ummu Salama School on the morning of June 25th, 2014. After a brief welcome speech from Mr. Mohamed Said, the Vice Chairman of TSF Tanzania, the first workshop began.

The US TSF brought with them a suitcase of hands-on learning materials such as Kidizens and about 10 Rasberry Pi units to be installed and made available to teachers and students alike. These technologies allow us to access very rich and selective educational contents such as Wikipedia, Khan Academy, C-12 contents, Medline contents, etc. even if no Internet connectivity is available.

Student and Teacher Workshops

Teachers were taught how to use computers to extract teaching and learning materials. Some teachers even paid to buy Rasberry Pis for their personal studies.

Yunteng and his son, Andrew, provided Physics lessons. Our students now know much more about electrical circuits.

IMG_6952With the help of Kidizens that came in a big suitcase, Matt’s class learned a lot about how to build well organized and well planned cities. I believe that when students learned these skills, they will be able to build their own cities when they grow up. I learned that the hands-on, learning by doing, approach is an excellent way to learn. There were no bored and idle students in this class. They were all too excited and busy planning their cities.

Dr. Cari with her assistant, Cathy, they truly transformed our students from passive to active participants. The students were given opportunities to express themselves in front of their peers and teachers. This concept of teaching is quite refreshing for me because African teachers tend to give lectures but not ask students what they know and think. I also learned from them that in order for the students to continue to learn well, they do need short breaks to get some fresh air, relax and unwind. This way, they can return to the class rooms fresh, and eager to learn.

Lynene taught the newest TSF students about the internet.  Most of them had not used a computer before. Through her and Jessie’s assistance, the new students started posting to their Journals with ease.

The workshops and classes for teachers and students were an incredible success we cannot wait to apply what we have learned. We are looking forward to seeing you all again in the near future.

The School Fund Tanzania’s Vice Chairman’s Speech to Guests From Abroad

This summer, members of The School Fund’s US team and Summer Fellows, visited TSF students living and attending school in Iringa, Tanzania. Upon their arrival, The School Fund Tanzania Vice Chairman Muhammed Said welcomed the guests.  The following is the speech he delivered:

While most people live in homes, in palaces, and in selected places on this land, there are a few people who live in the hearts of other people for immemorial ages.

While some great men and eminent men have monuments in bronze and marble set up for them, some men of divine fire manage in their lives to become enshrined in hundreds of hearts of people, with the divine fire in their hands.  We praise them.

Sadly 97% of the 6 billion people on planet Earth are inward looking, selfish, and maintain their own status quo throughout their lives.  Only the remaining 3% of the people move the world.  These individuals are men and women of action with strong faith that enables them to overcome the fear of failure.  They move people from survival to stability, from stability to success, and from success to significance.  They equip people to pursue their purpose with passion and perseverance.

For the whole of my past speaking I was in fact talking about our honorable guests from the TSF family from abroad.  Mr.  Matt [TSF Founder Matt Severson], Madam Judy [TSF Tanzania Director Judy Severson], Drika [TSF CEO Drika Weller], and the whole delegation from the United States of America.  You are warmly welcome to Tanzania, welcome to Iringa, welcome to Ummu Salama Education Center.  It is not a hidden fact that it is you who plotted TSF and developed it, and you have brought our children a life changing course that will take them towards the future life, which will bring them to fulfillment and significance.

I have accorded these assertions with confidence in order to revive your kindness and morality to continue to uphold this mission until it results into unprecedented achievements.

After this juncture, may I congratulate the resident TSF Chairman, Mr. Fuad Abri.  His commendable effort and role in facilitating functionality of the organization cannot be left unsaid. In spite of his numerous duties, he makes sure the TSF wheel spins to fruition.

May I express sincere gratitude to the TSF Iringa coordinator, Mr. Amos Maroa, who untiringly works with children to ensure TSF objectives are reached.  I take another opportunity to express thanks to my fellow headmasters and teachers from partner schools (Miyomboni, Highlands, and Lugalo) for participating in this colorful occasion.

Again may I congratulate all TSF students, who have attended the workshop.  It is my hope that at the end of the program each of us will reap benefits necessary for bringing about change to the whole community in Tanzania.

Lastly, may I welcome all parties to Ummu Salama Center and with that I declare the workshop open.


Muhammed Said


My Journey to Tanzania, East Africa with The School Fund

Photo courtesy of Kim Le

By Jonathan Gilbert, 2013 TSF Summer Fellow

I knew I wanted to visit Africa after attending the School Fund’s first birthday party back when I was in seventh grade. The School Fund (TSF) is a non-profit organization dedicated to helping underprivileged students in developing countries further their education. Matt Severson, co founder of TSF, gave a talk during the party. I remember being incredibly impressed and moved by Matt’s passion and commitment to The School Fund.

Last June I had the opportunity to visit Tanzania and see it with my own eyes. After a 44-hour journey from San Francisco to Tanzania including four flights, one missed connection, and a ten-hour bus ride, I finally arrived in Iringa. Iringa Photo courtesy of Kim Leis located in the Southern Highlands where The School Fund sponsors more than 40 students. There, I taught science classes and played sports with the School Fund students.

I felt an instant connection with these students.  Outwardly, they seemed like kids who could be from any part of the world. They enjoyed soccer and basketball, just like me. Their eyes sparkled and their smiles widened with recognition as I played Shakira and Justin Bieber’s music from my phone – music they had previously heard on their communal radio.  We also shared the same passion for learning and insatiable curiosity.

Although they wore carefree smiles, as I got to know these students by talking to them about their life experiences and visiting with their families, I learned that outside of their schools, they face incredible hardships.

Only a handful of lucky students had two parents. More commonly, they lived with one parent, grandparent, or relative who struggled as a common farmer or market laborer to put food on the table for the entire family.   Many also lived in orphanages because their parents were too poor to raise them or chose to abandon their children.  Many children had to work hard to provide their family income.

The CIA World Fact book indicates that in Tanzania, the average person earns only $4.66 a day.  Many families have lost parents to AIDS, malaria, and various illnesses that could have been treated if only they had a medical clinic nearby or enough money to buy medicine. Up to 10% suffer from HIV/AIDS. Three million of the 18 million children are orphaned due to a variety of causes, with HIV, alcoholism, and abandonment being most common.

Many children are undernourished and neglected, and end up living in orphanages or on the streets.  In the rural areas, houses are made of makeshift cardboard and mud. The neighborhoods are lined with trash, and the air smells filthy from fire and rotten garbage.

Only a high performing one-third of Tanzanian children are able to go on to secondary school. However, these students routinely get expelled because they cannot pay their school fees.

What struck me the most was the students’ innocence and eagerness to learn, and what going to school actually meant for them. For these students, obtaining an education was the only escape out of their oppressive world. Without a good education, they would stay trapped in the dreaded cycle of poverty. I didn’t realize how much it meant to them until I saw on their faces the expressions of gratitude for the classes brought to them by The School Fund.

In this region of the world, with more than 44% of the population younger than 15 years old, I believe the future of Tanzania depends on the very young generation to break the dreaded cycle of poverty, disease, and violence.

I cannot think of a better cause than to give these eager students the gift of education that will allow them to achieve their dreams.  With the help of The School Fund, today’s students can become tomorrow’s leaders, and bring a brighter future to their country.

An Interview with Lucas R.

John Medo, The School Fund’s very first supported student, is home in Karatu, Tanzania.  Last week, John interviewed Lucas R., who has been supported by The School Fund since 2013.  View Lucas’ TSF profile and Journal here.

Lucas R. is in Form Four at Mlimani Secondary School in Karatu and is 18 years old.  Lucas has one sister and one brother and they live with their mom and dad.  His dad and mom cook on the street and sell food to earn money to support the family.  They live in a small house which has two rooms.  Lucas said his mom was always responsible for the family more than his father, so most of the time he grew up under the care of his mother.

When I asked Lucas about life in Africa, he said life is tough in Africa because some families in Africa sleep without having food every day and he said this is caused by a lack of education as they don’t know how to make money to support daily costs.

When I asked him about hardship, Lucas said the hardest moment of his life is when his family was in Dar es Salaam. There, they were living in a house they rented, but their house was sold by the owner of the house and his father and mother did not have somewhere else to stay, so the father shifted to Karatu and Lucas, his brother, and sister had to live with someone in their family.  In 2007, Lucas had to follow his father to Karatu where his dad was working as a cook in a hotel and was able to pay for his rent.  After Lucas, the whole family moved to Karatu and family life began again.

Lucas finds doing personal revision at home to be challenging because sometimes there is no paraffin and hence no power.  In addition, he sometimes has to help his parents sell food after school, so he comes home late and tired and falls asleep without finding time to read for school.

His biggest dream is to become a pilot and when I asked why he said he just loves it from his heart and he doesn’t know why he likes it but he dreams of it.

Lucas said kids suffer a lot as most of them lack their parents’ love and care.  Kids become street children, especially those who come from uneducated families.

For him he sees The School Fund as his heart and he said TSF has improved his life by sending him to secondary school and exposing him to the internet.  In his school, there are no computers, so he believes if it weren’t for TSF not even half his dream could be fulfilled.  But with TSF’s support, he says, he will soon reach his destiny and his dream will be fulfilled. Lucas concluded the interview by saying that in reality education is always the light.  No education will lead to a life full of darkness.

A Message from TSF Founder Matt Severson

I co-founded The School Fund over four years ago after a life changing experience in Tanzania.  I was amazed that something as little as $150 per year in school fees could stand in the way of a young boy or girl and their ability to continue going to school.  Over the years, I’ve become more and more convinced of the power of education.  In countries with a per capital income of $2 per day or less, each year of school a student completes means a 10% increase in future earning capacity.

Furthermore, unlike a food handout, that which is learned can never be taken away.

I’m delighted with the impact The School Fund has had so far.  In four years, we have supported 765 students, funded 1225 years of education and graduated 157 students—with individual donors contributing anywhere between $1-$500. We’ve secured incredible partnerships with Chegg, Kathy Ireland, Grammy-nominated artist Carolyn Malachi and more.  I’m even more excited about the impact still to come. We’ve reached a tipping point and see that we are at the precipice of reaching many more students. Exciting new partnerships are in the works.Drika Weller, PhD

To help propel us through this next stage of growth, we needed someone who could bring expertise in education and international development—someone who could dedicate herself entirely to The School Fund’s next chapter.  And so I’m thrilled to welcome Drika Weller, PhD as The School Fund’s new CEO.  She comes to us from USAID’s Global
Development Lab where she spearheaded programs to help children and youth in Sub-Saharan Africa emerge from adversity.

Drika is that unique combination of scholar and passionate advocate.  She has hit the ground running, and from the relationships she has already helped The School Fund establish, I can see she will lead us toward a bright future.

I will continue to be heavily involved with The School Fund from my spot as Board Chair and remain committed as ever to our mission: to create a world where any student, no matter where they are born, is able to get an education.