International Studies Majors Start Non-Profit Benefiting Equatorial Guinea
By Erin DuBois ’11
It began with simple construction paper flowers. Less than two years later, Simply Equal Education, a non-profit started by Amanda Malamut ’10 and Caitlin McGee ’10, has blossomed into more than 1,000 pounds of school supplies for children in Equatorial Guinea. “We believe it’s not a grand endeavor,” McGee says. “It’s simply an equal education for all.”
During the Fall 2008 semester, the International Studies majors volunteered as teacher’s aides for 2- to 8-year-olds in the capital city of Malabo, where they experienced just how unequal education can be. Crammed three to a desk, the children attempted to learn without the luxury of electricity or even school supplies. Only the 7- and 8-year-olds were fortunate enough to have one workbook and pencil each.
The student-to-teacher ratio was 150:2—until Malamut and McGee’s first day, that is, when one of the teachers decided it was time for a much-needed break. Leaving Malamut and McGee in charge, the teacher returned later to ask if they had taught the children English yet.
Malamut and McGee went armed with lesson plans on their next visit, and one of their first challenges was to get the children talking. Because classroom learning operated through choral response, the children could not answer even basic questions independently. “By the end, the kids were all for talking, and the teachers may not have been entirely happy with that,” McGee says, laughing. When Malamut and McGee helped the children make presents at Christmastime, one student said that she had never before given her mother a present.
Malamut and McGee recycled plastic water bottles for the children to use as vases, but when they tried to buy construction paper for flowers, they found that a thin stack cost $40 in U.S. currency. Friends from the United States sent the first construction paper that the children had ever seen. One student gave her flower back to McGee as a thank-you gift. “It’s one of our reminders of why we do this,” McGee says. Their global learning experience, integrated with real-world classroom experience, had become personal as well, bringing the Arcadia Promise to life.
Back on U.S. soil, Malamut and McGee cannot forget the children’s plight. They give presentations at schools, churches and libraries to raise awareness. One of their most effective strategies has been locker cleanouts at local schools, since even old notebooks can be recycled if the used pages are torn out. Five hundred pounds of their first 750-pound shipment was composed of items that would have been thrown away.
Books for Bioko, an initiative through an oil company in Equatorial Guinea, fronts shipping costs and delivers the supplies to ensure their safe arrival.
Malamut and McGee never pressure their audiences for donations, but when people hear about the need, they usually want to help. “You hear a lot about how humankind is failing at being human, but when people have the opportunity to be part of the world they live in, they take it,” McGee says.
To find out how you can help, e-mail Simply Equal Education at email@example.com.