Students strive to find educational solutions in Africa

Sacred Heart Greenwich junior Katia Barker and senior Caroline Paul discovered their passion for community service at young ages.  Katia and Caroline are concerned about the lack of education for young girls in African countries.  Through research and persistence, both students found their own ways to combat this issue.  Katia choose to focus on the clean drinking water crisis, while Caroline directed her attention to the absence of proper schooling and homes for girls in underdeveloped countries.

Katia Barker ’20 met with children in a village where she raised money for a well.  Courtesy of Katia Barker ’20

As part of Katia’s eighth-grade “Making History” project, a year-long theology assignment that requires students to volunteer or fundraise for a charity, she chose to explore female education in developing countries.  After researching this topic, she realized that many families need their daughters to leave school early so they can fetch clean drinking water.

“Through researching female educational barriers, I discovered that many girls are forced to drop out of school to walk an average of 3.7 miles per day to the nearest, often contaminated, water source,” Katia said.  “Worse, consuming this water leads to waterborne diseases, which kill more kids than AIDs, malaria, and world violence combined.”

After this realization, Katia decided to shift her focus to the lack of clean drinking water.  She wanted to take action and work to solve the issue while also spreading awareness. To do so, she partnered with a non-profit organization called Thirst Project, a group that works to bring safe, clean drinking water to communities where it is not available.

“I decided to work with Thirst Project because of their dedication to student leadership in ending the global water crisis,” Katia said.  “The majority of Thirst Project’s fundraising is done by student leaders through clubs or on their own. Along with battling the water crisis, Thirst Project sends a message that you can never be too young to make a difference.”

In order to combat the drinking water crisis, Katia set out to fundraise 1$12,000 for one clean water well in eSwatini by the end of eighth grade.  The wells that the Thirst Project builds in developing nations and impoverished communities help to provide the citizens with safe and clean water, according to

A child receiving water from the new well in his village.  Courtesy of Katia Barker ’20

“$12,000 is a lot of money for anyone to raise, especially a thirteen-year-old girl with no prior fundraising experience,” Katia said.  “Still, I was passionate about the global water crisis and set a new goal for myself: fundraise for a clean water well by my high school graduation in the spring of 2020.  This goal seemed much more realistic. By eighth-grade graduation, I had raised $12,000 for my first well.”

Since eighth-grade, Katia has raised $28,500 for her cause by hosting fundraisers at local restaurants, running informational and fundraising booths at local fairs and stores, selling handmade candles from eSwatini, organizing holiday gift-wrapping at Barnes & Noble, hosting a Halloween dance, and collecting direct donations.  Her commitment to Thirst Project and ending the water crisis lead her to become Thirst Project’s largest individual fundraiser.

“I was selected by their board of directors to travel to eSwatini to see the effects of my work first hand,” Katia said.  “During my trip, we visited local communities where wells had been installed and helped build a well at a primary school. This experience was life-changing because it changed my view of the global water crisis from statistics to faces and stories.”  

In Caroline’s pursuit of supporting female education in Africa, she partnered with Mainsprings the Janada Batchelor Foundation for Children (JBFC).  Her cousin, Mr. Chris Gates, founded Mainsprings in 2006.

Mainsprings began as an all-girls orphanage with seven girls.  Those girls attended the local school in the village that had over 900 students and only three teachers, according to  Mainsprings has transformed to provide children with premier education and healthy meals daily.  Thousands of patients from the local community are able to receive medical care through the school. Additionally, Mainsprings employs 75 Africans, full-time.

Caroline spending time with two young Mainspring students. Courtesy of Caroline Paul ’19

“[Mainsprings] is a home for girls who are abused or unable to be supported by their families economically,” Caroline said.  “JBFC offers these girls comfort, the chance to change their lives around and receive a good education to open up new opportunities.”

Caroline has been able to see the positive impact Mainsprings has on its students, especially those who come from unstable homes.

“In my time at JBFC, I help out in the school and farm and build relationships with the girls that live at JBFC,” Caroline said.  “I marvel at the girls’ joy and their ability to be carefree despite their horrific backgrounds. Their friendliness and optimism are both humbling and inspiring; their radiant smiles and jaunty personalities put things into perspective.”

Mr. Gates realized that in order to break the girls out of a cycle of poverty, Mainsprings would need to take a holistic approach and begin in their local community.  The four crucial necessities were education, refuge, healthcare, and permaculture, according to

“One of the most incredible things about JBFC is its practice of permaculture, a system that mimics the natural ecosystem,” Caroline said.  “Permaculture is even taught in the classroom so that students can use these techniques in their own homes and teach their family members, to lead more efficient lifestyles.”

Mr. Gates extended his mission beyond his original intent which was to alleviate poverty one child at a time.  He gave the local community of Kitongo, Tanzania, resources so the residents could learn what it means to live a life without extreme poverty.

Caroline Paul ’19 playing with a Mainsprings student.  Courtesy of Caroline Paul ’19

Caroline’s three trips to Tanzania and her family’s dedication to helping underprivileged girls has inspired her to find new ways to help deprived individuals escape poverty.

“I have seen firsthand from my grandmother and cousin how hard work and a good idea can change lives,” Caroline said.  “In college, I want to develop the knowledge and skills to help the disadvantaged build more stable lives. I hope to discover my own vision in order to do good for people like the girls at JBFC who so truly deserve it.”

Featured Image by Shantel Guzman ’19