“Travel changes you. As you move through this life and this world you change things slightly, you leave marks behind, however small. And in return, life – and travel – leaves marks on you. Most of the time, those marks – on your body or on your heart – are beautiful. Often, though, they hurt.” – Anthony Bourdain
Four years ago, Maria Morris (Morse High School – Bath, ME) volunteered with a lion conservation initiative in Zimbabwe. The personal passion project inspired a new professional purpose, a return trip on a Fund for Teachers fellowship in 2016, and a third trip this summer.
“The country’s 90% unemployment rate, poverty and lack of basic school supplies was shocking,” said Maria, speaking of her initial time in Africa. “I returned home a different person and wanted my students to understand how different their world was compared to others. We initiated a pen pal project with orphans I visited in Zimbabwe, which led to students’ questions I couldn’t answer. I started researching the culture, education system and standards of living in Zimbabwe; but my research lacked ‘realness.’ That’s when I learned about Fund for Teachers.”
In the summer of 2016, Maria returned to Zimbabwe with an FFT grant. She researched community programs at African Impact and delivered team building curriculum for its volunteers. Through four school visits in three regions of the country, she researched the education system, employability skills needed by the tourism industry, lifestyle, culture and economics During her time at the Midlands Children’s Hope Centre orphanage, Maria took a student with her to purchase a laptop with funds her students raised through a Chili & Chowder Cook-off.
“Returning to Zimbabwe as an FFT Fellow helped me and my students grow in ways that cannot be measured,” said Maria. “While often in our culture we seek to separate our personal selves from our professional selves, I see that as impossible. They are symbiotic, fueling each other. My students now understand this, too, as I’m in a better place to guide them towards becoming global citizens and philanthropists.”
Zimbabwe continued to leave marks on Maria after her fellowship. She enrolled in classes through +Acumen (a nonprofit that tackles poverty by investing in sustainable businesses, leaders, and ideas), which led to a third journey to Zimbabwe in July. Maria conducted team-building and first impression lessons at the Ngamo Secondary School using activities road tested with her own students and materials supplied by JMG Maine, a nonprofit that supports public school students’ education and career goals.The culminating event was a four-day Youth Leadership Summit with orphans at Midlands Children’s Hope Centre, as well as girls from the community. Students created vision boards by solar lamps Maria purchased at a local market and brainstormed on creative solutions to community problems, presenting their plans on the final day.
“I had the best week ever,” said Miriam, a participant. “I learned to be confident and proved my confidence when I presented my business plan. I’m a leader!”
Maria (pictured with students at Morse High School and Ngamo Secondary School) blends classroom lessons with authentic learning experiences to empower her students to become healthy and successful global citizens. In addition to being a 2016 Fund for Teacher Fellow she was inducted into the Maine Educators’ Hall of Fame-Starting Six in 2012. (Pictured in top picture high-fiving a member of the Ngamo Lions Soccer Academy who aspires to be a teacher.)