Change Starts With One

Story by Anna Butler, Founder of modzi, NU ‘14 | anna@modzi.org

Photo by Marisa Kallenberger | kallenberger.m@husky.neu.edu

Having been a student at Northeastern’s Boston campus for a total of three semesters, the majority of my studies were spent familiarizing myself with the global challenges I sought to alleviate. I strove to create as many experiential opportunities as possible, and was fortunate to spend most of my time as an NU student learning abroad. As a result, I was exposed to many diverse, incredible places full of extraordinary people. My zeal for learning has been inspired by this beautiful, broken world and the invaluable lessons it has taught me.

A passion for sustainable development and child protection stems from my wide range of international fieldwork. In Haiti, I saw poverty cause a family’s first and only priority to be securing food. Indonesia showed me that a lack of infrastructure resulted in long walks to school, and when paired with the rainy season, mudslides forced parents to keep their children home. While student teaching in a South African township school, a shootout between rival gangs across the street forced us into lockdown, and I experienced the danger of prejudice and intolerance. I first truly understood the menace of social stigma when working to reintegrate physically disabled Ghanaian children into society. And when I began working to rehabilitate children living on the streets of Zambia, I observed the social ramifications of tumultuous economics and feeble politics. All of these experiences differed greatly and yet, I continuously saw that despite facing unimaginable obstacles, children still desired to learn.

The reasons children lack education are complex, and the challenges they each face are unique. Realizing the intricacy of social development issues made me yearn to alleviate global barriers to education, and ultimately led to my founding of modzi, an international NGO based in Zambia. A peaceful African nation plagued by incessant poverty, Zambia contends against rampant child protection issues as almost half of the country’s population is below the age of fourteen. modzi, meaning one, recognizes that regardless of circumstance, every single person has the potential to create positive change. Through individualized mentorship programs rooted in local partnerships, my organization works directly with orphaned and abandoned children in Zambia. By facilitating their access to quality education, modzi empowers at-risk youth to cultivate their passions and to effect positive change in their communities. Through modzi, I continue to advocate for those who have been neglected and who are struggling – not for lack of ability, but for lack of opportunity.

Though too often I have seen children robbed of their right to an education, I have also seen firsthand what educational opportunity can bring to the most marginalized populations. When modzi first began, I sat down with a student to tell him that he was going to receive academic scholarship upon completion of Grade 7. After computing what I had said, the young boy grinned from ear to ear, jumped to his feet, and bolted out of the room. Leaving me sitting there, slightly perplexed, this boy soon returned with something in his hands. He put a stump of a pencil to a tattered piece of paper, and with genuine curiosity looked at me and asked, “So what do I have to do if I am to make it to university?” Astonished, I began to understand what the prospect of pursing a secondary education meant to this child.

One thing I quickly learned through my work with these “impoverished” kids, is that their motivation and dedication are unparalleled. They don’t need to be told to work hard or to appreciate their education, because everyday they look around and see what life looks like without it. As every child’s struggle differs, they each form their own definition of success. For one of my students, it’s been being elected a class officer at school due to excellent academic performance. For others, it was excelling on a school sports team, regardless of the shoes worn on their feet. And still for some, growth can be seen in learning to speak up when something is wrong. I continue to watch as several modzi students learn to admit when they don’t understand something, and gain the confidence to ask questions. Even more noteworthy is when those same students become leaders, eager to share their newly acquired knowledge with their peers. I praise my students on the unique progress they have made, both academically and socially, and could not be more proud of their accomplishments.

In witnessing the disparity of global education, I have also furthered my understanding of children’s inspirational resilience. Everyday, I am exceptionally grateful for the education I received, and the opportunities made possible because of it. I am blessed to be living my dream and to be working for a cause I am so passionate about. Our world and the remarkable people in it have taught me to always be thankful, and that change truly can start with one.