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Alumni aiding Africans

Small sub-Saharan nations
are places that most of us see only through the lens of another’s camera. Some are among the world’s least-developed regions—where AIDS can kill 10 people an hour, where millions are orphaned, where education and sanitation must come second to survival. And it is here that several Skidmore alumni are changing lives. A few examples:

“When I close my eyes at night I think of Manasseh, smiling, in a picture sent from his new school,” says Tyler Arnot ’08, who with John Kotsinonos ’08 and Evan Bjorklund ’08 created the South Sudan Scholarship Foundation, a nonprofit that helps the troubled region’s vulnerable children gain access to education. Manasseh is a young orphan who as a preteen was left to care for his aging grandmother and their land. He would awake at 4 a.m. to do chores before making the hour-long walk to school, where he performed at the top of his class. But suffering from hunger pangs and disease, he found this routine soon became impossible to maintain.

Meanwhile, Arnot spent a semester in Kenya with Save the Children, where he learned that $500 would allow a boy like Manasseh to attend an excellent boarding school in Uganda. Arnot began raising funds, and SSSF was born. His initial round of fundraising was enough to send not only Manasseh but also two girls—who were at risk of being violently forced into child-marriages if they remained at home—away to school in Uganda.

To the west, in Ghana, other Skidmore alums have begun working in several communities, improving access to education, health, entrepreneurial support, and ultimately hope. “Instead of watching the news and throwing our hands up, we thought: We can do something,” says Judy Willsey ’71. She and Barbara Tsairis ’71 founded World Class–Ghana Inc., an outgrowth of their 35th Skidmore reunion in 2006. Willsey explains, “We wanted to make our reunion more meaningful by re-engaging with the spirit of idealism and activism that had characterized our class, which came of age in the Vietnam War era.”

World Class–Ghana is dedicated to the relief of extreme poverty in three neighboring towns, primarily by providing small loans to help women who run local micro-enterprises. Willsey says many of the women are peddlers or hawkers—sometimes of a single food commodity. “They may carry pineapples or bread in baskets on their heads, and they sell their wares along the road.” A few World Class clients have more substantial businesses, perhaps operating a large shed of canned goods, or dealing in building materials, or working with and supervising a few seamstresses.

Also in Ghana, the alumni-founded Building Fund supported the groundbreaking of a community center that will serve 12 townships, according to Jessyca Dudley ’06, who started the fund along with Lindsey Jevne ’06 and Anna Markowitz ’05. Dudley says, “There is nothing else like this in that area—with a health clinic, library, computer lab, gymnasium, and meeting room. It’s a place where students and families can come together.” Already in its brief four-year history, the Building Fund has covered the expansion and operating expenses of two schools, awarded scholarships to 16 students, and enabled the delivery of 25,000 books and over 250 pounds of classroom supplies.

Talk to any of these alums and it’s clear that behind each of their initiatives is a desire to help people who every day are confronted with difficulties that can leave them with little hope for change. Perhaps nowhere is this more visible than in the Ntaja area of Malawi, where in 2004 Janet Littlefield ’98 built the LittleField Home for 20 homeless orphans. Now the orphanage houses 72 children and includes a medical clinic and an after-school program.

Peace Corps veteran Littlefield was struck that “in
Malawi it’s hard to find an adult.” She reports, “Forty-five percent of the population is under age 5, and there are 1 million orphans in an area the size of Pennsylvania.” One of her goals is to inspire young Americans to visit the region and experience life in a simpler way. “I’m bringing two or three groups of students over with me each year,” she says, “so they can work, become aware of the inequalities, and ask themselves what they can do to make a difference when they return to the US.” —Ruth Fein Wallens

Want to help Skiddies working in Africa?
The not-for-profits these alumni have created are already improving the welfare, health, and education of many people. But more volunteers are needed; more financial support is required.

Here's how to find out more:

South Sudan Scholarship Fund
Tyler Arnot ‘08, founder

The Building Fund
Jessyca Dudley ‘06, founder

The Littlefield Home
Janet Littlefield ’98, founder

World Class–Ghana
Judy Willsey ‘71 and Barbara Tsairis
‘71, founders