Volunteer educators help keep African students in school

Through sponsorships, Chelsea and Kyle Pease helped pay for 13 students’ education

LESOTHO — Chelsea and Kyle Pease had to adapt to a new lifestyle when the married couple first visited Africa as volunteer educators in 2014. They mostly used candles for lighting and, if they wanted water, had to carry 10-gallon buckets from a nearby tap.

But that didn’t stop the two from making the most out of their experiences. In fact, they loved their time in Africa so much, they went back after their volunteer work was complete.

“We found the dependence most Americans have on electricity and appliances isn’t absolutely necessary,” she said. “In some cases, doing without can be even more satisfying.”

As former Kingston High School students, Chelsea and Kyle both attended Olympic College. Chelsea went on to study elementary education at the University of Montana while Kyle attended Washington State University for mechanical engineering.

The couple jumped on an opportunity to volunteer their time in 2014 as educators in a small, remote village in the mountains of the African nation of Lesotho. Chelsea was an English teacher for Motete Primary School but she also taught science and life skills — something particularly relevant due to the 25-percent HIV rate in Lesotho.

“The primary school had about 500 students and seven classrooms,” she said. “My first year there, the fourth-grade classroom had over 100 students.”

Overcrowded classrooms made teaching to the needs of her students extremely difficult, she said. Her eighth-grade students ranged in age from 12 to 19, only exacerbating the problem. This prompted Chelsea and other teachers to apply for a grant toward a new classroom building.

It took more than a year, but two classrooms were completed in November 2016 with a $4,500 grant, dropping the average class size from 72 to 55.

Another problem needed solving, though.

“There is a lot of awareness for the need to get girls educated globally,” Chelsea said. “What surprised me is [that] the problem is the opposite in Lesotho.”

Seventy percent of her seventh-grade class were girls, she said, adding that rural boys often drop out of school in sixth-grade to look after farm animals. These shepherds are widely referred to as “herd boys,” she said.

“[Herd boys] are passionate for their culture which values creativity and resilience and is, in a way, rebellious from society’s shift toward modernization and uniformity,” Chelsea said. “They might be best described as ‘Peter Pan’s lost boys meets punk rockers.’”

The former Kitsap County residents and a few community members started a night school for local shepherds, who are “often ostracized and generally not welcome at any school events,” Chelsea said. With more than 100 herd boys typically packed a room, Kyle taught eighth- to 10th-graders at what was originally Motete Secondary School. But a series of upgrades allowed it to apply for and obtain high school status, meaning 11th- and 12th-grade classes were added.

With the help of Principal Tsoelike Makoanyane, Kyle said he accomplished many school projects, including installing new toilets for the boys (who were previously using a river), expanding the crowded girls’ hostel, new classrooms, a science lab, a solar power system for lighting, projectors and an upgraded office building.

“This year [is] the first year of 12th grade,” Kyle said, “and the entire region is proud and excited for [its] first graduating class.”

Of everything Chelsea and Kyle had done, one of their proudest accomplishments was still to come. The cost to send one child to school for a year is $120 unless the student is in 10th or 12th grade, Chelsea said. Otherwise, the cost is $220. As little as that may seem for an entire year of education, she said most students’ families cannot afford it.

With the help of donors, 13 young people were able to continue on with schooling for another year.

“If we hadn’t found these donors, they all would have dropped out of school,” Chelsea said. “The young men would be herding animals and the young women would be preparing for marriage.”

She said people felt motivated to assist because they knew all their money was helping a student gain an education.

“A lot of people told me they always wanted to ‘help Africa’ in some way, but often with big charity organizations, you don’t know exactly where your money is going or what it’s being used for,” she said.

“People really felt grateful to know every penny was keeping a student in school for another year when they otherwise would have had to drop out.”

Taking what they learned in Lesotho, Kyle is now applying toward earning a master’s degree in mechanical engineering while developing research to support sustainable and affordable housing efforts. The couple eventually hopes to move to an off-grid house in the U.S. that uses solar panels and minimal electricity, Chelsea said.

If you want to help the scholarship fund provide educational opportunities for years to come, or to learn more about Chelsea and Kyle’s experience, visit togetherformotete.org.

Jacob Moore is a reporter for Kitsap News Group. Contact him at jmoore@soundpublishing.com.

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