May 27, 2012

Meet AIA Team Member Samah McGona!


When people ask how to pronounce my last name, I tell them to remove the American inspires “C” and utilize the phonics they were taught in grade school.

The next question that usually follows is, “so where are you from?” To this I usually begin to say Richmond, Virginia; however, I know that’s not a satisfactory answer to the question despite the fact that I have lived in Virginia for the past twelve years. Instead I draw on my roots and tell them that I was born in Africa but raised in America.

For me being African has been my first and foremost identification. It’s how others see me and over the past few years it’s how I’ve began to truly see myself. I don’t know how to not be African, how to not love my Liberian roots.

However, my love for Africa has always been tinted by the generalizations and stereotypes that are often attached to the continent. After years of explaining to people that I did not live in a jungle or suffer from malnutrition as a child, I have developed a desire to educate others about Africa and its many countries. Most importantly, I have realized that the best way to uplift Africa is to better the conditions in African countries that lend to these generalizations.


Therefore, I decided to concentrate on the African region when I declared my International Affairs and Development major in college. After recently finishing my fist year at the George Washington University I am positive that I chose the right field of study. It is very true that many African countries are suffering both economically and socially; yet, I continue to believe that there is so much unlocked potential in these countries.

So, when I initially heard about Achieve in Africa and the projects in Tanzania, I felt a need to be a part of the progress. It was literally a dream to receive an internship with AIA. I look forward to working as an intern for this organization because I know that building infrastructure and furthering education can and will brighten the potential of the impacted children and communities. Doing my part to uplift Africa makes me feel closer to my heritage and working with Achieve in Africa provides an opportunity to educate both those in Africa and those unable to comprehend the overall exquisiteness of Africa.

– Samah McGona

May 10, 2012

Opportunity of a Lifetime

I often take time to reflect on the benefits and life changing effects that opportunity can bring to an individual.  During these moments of reflection, I appreciate how fortunate I was to have had the opportunity to attend a top notch elementary school and high school and to have been admitted to a challenging university in Boston, MA – a city known for its intellectually stimulating environment – because of the benefits these educational experiences have brought me. I also recognize that there are countless young men and women around the world who have not received these opportunities for reasons that they had no control over and as a result are living very difficult lives that make the experiences and problems of my friends and I look simple.

During these points of reflection I also realize that this is what energizes me to volunteer for Achieve in Africa. For me, Achieve in Africa represents an avenue for me to help setup a platform to improve the education that youth are receiving. I strongly support the education focus of the Achieve in Africa organization because I know the most effective way the majority of the youth that we are helping are going to be able to improve their life trajectory is by giving them an opportunity at a good fundamental education. I believe Achieve in Africa is truly focused on getting the necessary tools, whether it is classrooms, books, desks, or course curriculum, to youth who will greatly benefit from a basic education.

As I was completing my undergraduate degree at Boston University I realized how many doors are opened through formal education. I believe that Achieve in Africa’s mission to improve the formal education experience for youth in rural regions Tanzania and in so doing giving them more opportunities in life is one that is inspirational and one that I am happy to be a part of.


– Sherrod, Business Development Director

May 1, 2012

Volunteering from your homeland

Like most of us involved with Achieve in Africa, I’m not always assured that I can make a direct difference in the lives of children thousands of miles away.  Yes, editing AIA’s videos does help spread the organization’s goals, yet I can’t help but feel that it’s not enough.  It was recently National Volunteer Week and other AIA members have discussed other ways to get involved that don’t always require donations.

The people who work in human resources at my company are extremely dedicated to a variety of causes.  Bringing AIA to their attention will not only present opportunities for fundraising, but also educate and bring about awareness throughout the company and other associates.  You can do the same wherever you work, or just with your friends.

Facebook and Twitter are some of the best resources around.  Just “liking” AIA’s Facebook page can help spread the word.

Don’t limit your volunteering just because it was national volunteer week.  Seek out any sort of local causes that you can get involved in.  I recently found an animal shelter nearby that is one of the largest no-kill shelters in the Los Angeles area, and I can’t wait to work with them every weekend.

I love working with Achieve in Africa and creating content that can easily be shared online and throughout the world.  AIA is a fantastic organization and I encourage all to get involved either with us, or another non-profit near you.

Ryan Urban

April 18, 2012

It’s National Volunteer Week! Get involved!

We may be halfway through the week already, but it’s never too late to get involved and make a difference!

National Volunteer Week was established in 1974 and is about inspiring, recognizing and encouraging people to seek out imaginative ways to engage in their communities. This week demonstrates that by working together, in unison, we are capable of tackling our challenges and accomplishing our goals. National Volunteer Week is about taking ACTION and  encouraging individuals and communities to be a force for social change—to demonstrate our collective power to foster positive transformation.

We at Achieve in Africa are so greatful for our volunteers, who dedicate their time, energy, and resources to furthering our mission of bringing quality education to Africa’s rural communities.  Without our volunteers, our achievements would not be possible.  THANK YOU!

In addition to expressing our gratitude, we’d also like to encourage you to keep up the great work and seek out new ways to engage with our cause.

You can become an AIA Ambassador! As an ambassador you can fundraise with your classmates, group of friends, club, or on behalf of your town. No previous fundraising experience is necessary, just an interest in Achieve in Africa’s mission. To receive the AIA Ambassador Manual to help get you started, please email with your name, the city and state where you plan on fundraising, and any additional information you care to share to introduce yourself.

You can spread the word! Send a message to a friend, shop for AIA, or make a donation in someone else’s name. For ideas on how to educate others about AIA check out our page:

You can make a donation! It’s as easy as clicking a button (check out the sidebar).  Currently we are working on constructing desperately needed desks for our learners — for only $44 you can support student learning by ensuring that a child has a well-crafted desk to use at school.  We have big plans for the future and every dollar can bring us one step closer to reaching our goals!

You can share your connections! If you have connections to organizaitons, media outlets, or individuals that can help us grow, we would love to get in touch with them!  For a complete list of connections we are striving to make, please see our previous blog post.

“Service is a lifelong pursuit that strengthens the civic and economic fabric of our Nation. With every hour and every act, our lives are made richer, our communities are drawn closer, and our country is forged stronger by the dedication and generous spirit of volunteers. I encourage every American to stand up and play their part — to put their shoulder up against the wheel and help change history’s course.”  — President Barack Obama

April 4, 2012

Progress update: First Batch of Desks Complete!

 In our last field update, we shared the exciting news that our Secondary School had opened in Olasiti!  We also shared photos of desks that we were in the process of constructing for the classroom.  The desk construction is a necessary project because students are currently sitting on either bricks or old paint cans and containers  instead of desks.  Despite now having classrooms, students in the Secondary School lack their own personal space in which to effectively complete their work — a reality that can disrupt the learning process.

Students sitting on bricks and old paint containers during class.

Students carrying their "chairs" to school.


We are proud to say that our first batch of desks is now complete!  They have been moved into the classroom and are now being enjoyed by the students!

Students help unload their new desks and chairs.

Students sitting at their newly constructed desks.


We’re planning to build more classrooms for this Secondary School, enough to accommodate these students when they move on to the
next grade next year.  These students will need desks, as well.  We will be using funds we receive to continue classroom and desk construction for our Secondary School.  We have five classrooms already and we plan to build 19 additional classrooms so that the school can accommodate 6 grade levels (at four classrooms per grade level).  This is a cost of $10,000 per classroom. 50 desks are required for each classroom, and each desk can be constructed through a donation of $44.  Please consider helping us reach our goals by donating or connecting with Achieve in Africa in a variety of other ways.

Thank you for your continued support!

March 29, 2012

A Message from AIA’s President!

Hey everyone – this is Brendan, Achieve in Africa’s President.  It’s been three years since I co-founded AIA.  Over that time, we’ve been able to raise $67,500 for our past projects and worked to build our organizational capacity to take on large projects.  By rebuilding two classrooms and renovating seven more at the Olasiti Primary School, we’ve improved the learning environment for over 100 students and improved the student-teacher ratio and decreased the number of students per classroom by twelve.  Not only do the 100 students benefit from the new classrooms, but so do their peers in other classrooms that are now smaller in size.

Here’s a video of the primary school teachers talking about the work that AIA has done.

AIA is currently working to provide enough secondary school classrooms and desks to accommodate a new grade level of students each year.  So far, we have worked with the village government and partners to build five classrooms and ten bathrooms, enough to accommodate the first grade level of students.

While we’ve been incredibly successful so far, we have so much more to do.  To help us build more classrooms for our secondary school, we need your support.  Here are some ways to help:

–       Donate

–       Become an Ambassador

–       Share your connections

–       Like on Facebook, Follow on Twitter
Asanteni sana rafikis (thank you my friends)

Pamoja, tutafaula (together, we will achieve)


March 21, 2012

Thoughts on Education from AIA team member David Fefferman!

This week we are introducing a new AIA team member — David Fefferman! 

David is our Online Strategy Director and a valuable member of the AIA team!  Below are his perspective on educaton and the importance of sharing that privilege with others:

” I was never really a fan of formal education — with all of its homework, studying, paper fudging and snooze-inducing classes. School sucked. Don’t get me wrong, I played the game and did pretty well for myself, but the class subjects always felt trivial and the concepts too theoretical.

…And then I graduated college.

It’s funny looking back on the days of my education and realizing, now, with that stereotypical 20/20 vision, just how great I had it and how incredibly privileged I was. There’s so much to extract from an education beyond the drudgery I often found myself moping about.

I learned not only things, but how to learn things. I learned to navigate obstacles and keep focused on an end goal. I was enlightened to the fact that I can be wrong (go figure) and learn from being wrong. And, in my eyes, the most important opportunity afforded me by formal education was the environment — comprised of the people who I’ve grown up with and still learn from.  They are people I probably would have never met had it not been for the academic environment that forced us to make initial contact and interact. Heck, I met the individuals who I started my first serious businesses with, GrubUp and CloudChow. Back in my high school days, I even met Brendan Callahan of Achieve In Africa.

What’s kind-of strange is that I think I knew how privileged I was all along – even as the horrifying midterms and arduous reports consumed my weekends. I knew that one day I would look back on my academic years and realize how lucky I was and how silly it was of me to even consider taking the precious gift of an education for granted. There are so, so many less fortunate than me, with less opportunities than me, and no reason for anyone to force them to finish their homework every night.

And that’s why I got involved in Achieve In Africa.”

March 15, 2012

Facts and Stats on Education in Africa (Part 2)

I can’t believe it was three yeas ago that I posted the first post of interesting facts I’ve come across on education in Africa. Brought back by popular demand, here are some more interesting facts and stats on education in Africa. Special thanks to Kristin for compiling most of these 🙂

Facts on Girls’ Education in Africa

  • A girl who finishes basic education is 3 times less likely to contract HIV/AIDS. (USAID)
  • If all women in sub-Saharan Africa finished secondary education, 1.8 million lives could be saved annually. (USAID)
  • Nearly half (47%) of primary school aged girls are not attending school. (Nation Master)
  • For every year that a girl remains in school beyond 4th grade, their wages increase 20%. (USAID)
  • Between 2004 and 2010, pregnancy among Tanzanian girls aged 15 to 19 years fell by about 12%. Still, more than 40% of young women begin having children by age 18, and the country has one of the highest adolescent pregnancy rates in the world. (UNICEF)
  • In 2010, a survey showed that at least 93% of girls from the wealthiest households completed primary education, as compared to only 54% from the poorest families. (The Citizen)
  • Girls in urban areas of Tanzania were eight times more likely to finish secondary education than girls in rural areas. (The Citizen)
  • In Tanzania, 49% of girls among the wealthiest households compared with only 9% from the poorest families complete secondary education. (The Citizen)

School Enrollment in Africa

  • Globally, 69 million school-age children are not currently attending school. (The New York Times)
  • Currently, Tanzanian children are expected to receive 5.3 years of schooling in their lifetimes. (UN)
  • About 58% of 5-to- 6-year-olds in Tanzania do not attend pre-primary schools, which serves as a foundation for better educational outcomes. (The Citizen)
  • There are 604,378 primary-school aged children who do not currently attend school. (Nation Master)
  • Only 72% of students complete primary school. (Nation Master)
  • The student-teacher ratio in Tanzanian primary schools is 55.86 students per teacher. (Nation Master)
  • Two thirds of Tanzanian children do not go on to secondary school. (UNICEF)
  • Only 0.7% of students enroll in tertiary education. (Nation Master)

Poverty and Education

  • Many of the 7.6 million young Tanzanian children today are living in poverty.  (The Citizen)
  • Typically, poor countries devote budgets for education disproportionately to universities and higher education, because urban, middle-class students and their families have political clout. Consequently, primary schools in rural areas and urban slums are widely neglected. (The New York Times)
  • 88% of Tanzania schoolchildren in urban areas were attending primary school, as compared with 78% in rural schools. (The Citizen)
  • For each year of school completed, an individual’s earnings increase by 10%. (USAID)
  • On average, Tanzanian adults have had 5.1 years of schooling. (UN)

Literacy in Africa

  • Less than three-quarters (73%) of Tanzanian adults are literate. (World Bank)
  • Among Tanzanians aged 15 to 24 years, 79% of males and 76% or females are literate. (World Bank)
March 9, 2012

Updates from the field!

We have exciting updates from the field this week!  Olasiti’s Secondary School has officially opened for the first grade level of students!  Below are several pictures that show the progress we have been making on the school construction.

We are in the process of constructing desks for each classroom.  50 desks are required for each classroom, and each desk can be constructed through a donation of $44.

The stand-alone structure featured below holds bathrooms for the first grade level of students coming into the secondary school.  The last picture shows the bathroom on far left with the five new classrooms that make up the beginning of our school.

We have five classrooms already and we plan to build 19 additional classrooms so that the school can accommodate 6 grade levels (at four classrooms per grade level).  This is a cost of $10,000 per classroom.  Our goal is ambitious, but with your support it is definitely attainable.  Please consider getting involved in one of three ways: donate, become an Ambassador, or bring us your connections.

Thank you!

March 7, 2012

Meet AIA team member Katrina!

Hello friends!  This week we are continuing with our efforts to help you get to know the AIA team better by introducing you to Katrina Schweithelm.  Katrina is our Graphic Design Volunteer and is a great asset to our team!  Please read Katrina’s words below to learn more about her and why she is dedicated to the work of Achieve in Africa!

“I was born in Indonesia, and also lived in a few other third world countries as a child.  My dad’s job, which brought us to these places, allowed me to go to great international schools.  My classmates were from all over the world,  and our teachers always made a point to celebrate all of our nationalities and customs.

However, close by, there were other children who lived in extreme poverty.  Education was a luxury for those kids,  because learning how to spell could not feed the family, and often everyone had work and pitch in.

Making education accessible and universal is a necessity for alleviating poverty and disease worldwide. Schools, like the ones being built in Olasiti, will fortify the next generations to be successful individuals and leaders of their community.

I volunteer with Achieve in Africa because I believe that literacy and comprehension give people the freedom to ‘paddle there own canoe.’  I hope that my small contributions can make a difference for one child, or an entire village.

Knowledge is an exponential resource, and I believe that we must help it develop in any way that we can.”

Please continue to check out our future posts to learn more about the AIA team and visit our website to stay up-to-date on our current projects!