South Charlotte Weekly
Forty second-graders gather in Lecia Shockley’s classroom at Selwyn Elementary School for a special service learning what it’s like living and going to school in Tanzania.
Rebecca Wofford, founder of The Lunch Project, sits close to the second-graders and talks about a country that’s become near and dear to her heart.
The Lunch Project (TLP) is a south Charlotte-based nonprofit that raises money to provide lunch for children at two public primary schools near Arusha, Tanzania. Wofford, a resident of the Selwyn area, visited a public primary school in Tanzania in 2011, as part of her work as a law professor at Charlotte School of Law.
She said many children were enrolled in primary school, but few attended or passed their primary school exit exam. Upon return, Wofford decided providing Tanzanian students with a free school lunch would give them incentive to attend and the “fuel” they needed to focus on learning.
Less than a year after starting TLP, Wofford said Dana Kumerow, a now-retired teacher from Selwyn, asked her to give a presentation about Tanzania and TLP.
Kumerow’s interest in TLP helped Wofford and her team develop TLP’s dual mission of fueling students in Charlotte with information about another country and providing Tanzanian students with locally-sourced school lunches.
Wofford points to a PowerPoint presentation filled with photographs of Tanzanian people, animals and landscapes.
The children laugh as they practice the annunciation of Swaihili words such as jambo for “hello” and nyani for “baboon.” They raise their hands to answer questions about Tanzanian food and water sources, try on authentic garments and play handmade instruments.
Wofford also uses science and anthropologic lessons as a way to teach valuable life lessons, such as how dependent relationships and working together, as a community, is important.
“We are all dependent on one another,” Wofford said, regarding symbiotic relationships. “It really starts with having empathy for one another, a willingness to learn and celebrate similarities and differences and make simple changes in our lives that could potentially impact the world.”
Wofford said Shockley was instrumental in starting a global service project at the school two years ago – merging Wofford’s global education program with a service-learning project to raise money for TLP’s Tanzanian lunch mission.
“As a teacher, I am an enthusiastic supporter of service learning as a way to not only make an impact on the world around us, but also to connect my students to others in a way that celebrates our differences and recognizes our similarities,” Shockley said. “The Lunch Project is an ideal match for us in terms of developing students as world citizens and scholars.”
Shockley encouraged students to collect spare change to help pay for Tanzanian school lunches through their “Change Exchange” program. The children were shocked when Wofford told them it only costs 9 cents to feed one child and $85 to feed all of the students at Lemanyata Primary School.
Wofford showed the students photographs as examples of other children collecting coins through a lemonade stand, tea party and art sales.
Over the next few weeks, Shockley said all second-graders would be involved in several lessons related to Wofford’s global education program. Some activities include using daily coin collections to deepen monetary problem-solving skills, learning dances popular with the Maasai people of Tanzania and sampling ugali – white cornmeal porridge that TLP provides for the Tanzania students’ school lunch.
Wofford said TLP is a volunteer team that educates students here in the U.S. and raises money for the lunch project for two Tanzanian schools.
They are available and willing to partner with any Charlotte school to create a curriculum about Tanzania that meets the appropriate grade standards. Wofford said fifth-graders discuss biodiversity and direct problem-solving conversations on how to fund and organize The Lunch Project.
“To be a witness to the creativity, spark and kindness of children has been a blessing to me,” she said.
In Tanzania, Wofford said they recently took on feeding a second school lunch at Engorika Primary School, also near Arusha, Tanzania. She said they’ve started this program slowly, only feeding them once a week and using the same model used for Lemanyata – using locally-sourced food that’s cooked by volunteer parents and dished out by Tanzanian students.
“We all have a part,” Wofford said. “It was important to the Tanzanian schools that their students were responsible by taking part in the project.”
Since TLP started their program at Lemanyata in May 2012, attendance at the school is up to 90 percent and primary exit exams are averaging 87 percent passing.