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By: Bo Scherwin
The bus, filled with schoolchildren, sits stranded on the savanna. The driver guns the engine, but the wheels only spin deeper into the sand. They won't get anywhere this way. The children, ages 2 through 12, sit obediently, stuffed three or more to a seat. It's the hot season in Tanzania. Mama Lucy Kamptoni, the Shepherds Junior School principal and founder, holds her cell phone out the window. Although cell phones are among the few reliable forms of technology in Tanzania, the phone gets no signal. The weight of the situation begins to settle in. The children and teachers are trapped on the bus, two miles into Tarangire National Park, with no way to call for help. Outside, wild animals roam, invisible in the brush.
One of the adults on the bus looks for an upside to the situation, even while worrying that a passing elephant may use the bus as a back scratcher. This is an opportunity to talk to the students, to try to understand them, know their stories. To Stacey Monk, who is visiting Tanzania as part of an experiment of her own making, stories are the currency of change. And the students of Shepherds Junior need change.
Stories follow many paths. Some spiral, some meander, some arc. Just over a year ago, Monk cofounded Epic Change, an organization that is currently helping preserve the futures of more than 200 children. To Monk, Epic Change's story is a circle, an endless loop. Perhaps you enter that story on the Tanzanian savanna. Or perhaps you begin with Monk herself.
A self-labeled type-A personality, Monk admits to having a restless mind never satisfied with pursuing well-trodden paths. A Florida native and undergraduate philosophy major, she followed her passion for theater and performing arts management to Carnegie Mellon's H. John Heinz III School of Public Policy and Management. There, she encountered a blend of arts management, technology, economics, and public policy—providing the tools she would need to do all the things she never imagined doing.
"The combination of a public policy curriculum and a creative aspect allowed me to look at things in a way that perhaps others would not," the 2000 graduate says.
She translated her diverse education into a career in consulting, specializing in "change management." When major concerns such as the Santa Clara Social Services Agency and biotech giant Genentech planned internal changes, they turned to her to help their employees adjust. She brought to bear typical consulting tools like complex charts and diagrams, but she also used interactive plays and puppet shows to teach employees new company procedures. When she helped launch Funken Consulting with Sanjay Patel, whom she met at the Santa Clara agency, the firm was immediately successful.
Despite Monk's consulting accomplishments, she never lost sight of her love for nonprofit work, acquired during her theater management and social services experiences. "I knew my path would be to learn whatever I can and bring that back to nonprofit projects," she says. On one of many cross-country business flights, she and Patel made up their list of life goals. For travel, Africa was at the top of each of their lists. They decided right then to make the trip happen—with a twist. The pair planned a two-month trip spanning from South Africa to Egypt, but half of the trip would be spent as "voluntourists," teaching in local schools in Arusha, Tanzania.
Three months later, in January 2007, Monk arrived in Africa; for the next month she was a volunteer teacher to Kamptoni's Shepherds Junior School, a pre- and primary school. Kamptoni founded the school in 2003 to address a need she saw in her community and country. World Bank statistics show that the average Tanzanian earns about $350 a year, compared to more than $44,000 in the United States. AIDS is a full-blown epidemic in the country, a major source of the nation's approximately 1.1 million orphans younger than 18, according to the United Nations.
"The three major problems that hinder our country's development are poverty, disease, and ignorance," says Kamptoni. "I said to myself, 'Let me see what I can do to fight ignorance, which will help fight the other two.'"
Kamptoni started the school with money from her boutique and small poultry farm. The school opened with 10 students. By the time Monk arrived, that number had swelled to more than 150. Many of the students are orphans or from desperately poor families; Kamptoni charges a small tuition from those who can afford it to subsidize those who can't.(Continued …)