Ella (left) and Darcie, mom (right)
If you think heroes are hard to find these days perhaps you've set your sights too high. Lower your gaze and meet 12-year-old, seventh grader Ella Patrick. Ella accomplished in six days what adults and organizations on two continents were struggling with for two years: raising $2,000 to build a well to bring fresh water to schoolchildren in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.
Ella gives me a tour of the Sea Pines Montessori Academy, where her mother is Head of School (the tour is at her request) and where Ella started at age two. She has a gentle, gracious manner as she shows me the colorful, inviting classrooms, and explains that students start studying violin at age three and later study Chinese.
When her mother - Darcie Patrick - joins us and we sit down, I already know this lovely young girl, with beautiful expressive green eyes, has a sense of the larger world. I'm dying to know how it got focused on a small school, in the coastal city of Dar es Salaam, in the east African country of Tanzania. Darcie is a consultant to Alice Nalugwa, the head of St. Augustine English Medium Primary School. She learned that the school desperately needs water for drinking and sanitation. There is a hole for a well, but they have not been able to raise the money to build a pipe line to the underground water supply.
"Ella and I were invited to accompany a mission trip* that was going to Dar es Salaam this past March. I called Alice and asked what she most needed. She said, 'We need the well.'"
"Days before we were supposed to leave I made a pitch to the Rotary. They gave me 50 dictionaries to take, but said the grant application couldn't possibly be completed before our departure date. I came home from the meeting really discouraged." Ella listened to her Mother's report and said, "It seems all the adults ever do is make paper." Darcie smiles at Ella and then me and says, "She was very courteous, but inside I felt defensive and a little irritated, thinking, 'Ok wise 12-year-old.' I looked at her and said, 'You think you can do better?'" "I think I'd like to try."
With only six days to go before their trip, Ella addressed a letter, "Dear Low Country Volleyball friends." In it she asked fellow team members to donate old athletic shoes and volleyballs.
In the third paragraph she wrote: "Lastly, there isn't water at the school. A well will cost $2,000, and they have spent two years raising $700. My mom and I would really like to present the school with $1,300 so they can build their well. Based on Coach Stern's 'hydration' letter today, it really made me want to reach out to all of the girls in our great Low Country Volleyball Club; since these children don't have any water to drink. So, if everyone could donate $10.00, I think we could raise half the money. My mom and dad said they would match the remaining amount." Head Coach Stern endorsed Ella's letter and within one hour sent it out to teams throughout the Low Country. The very next morning, at school, Ella received some sport shoes and her first check for $150 from the wife of a coach whose team had responded immediately. She rushed into her mom's office overwhelmed.
Ella's eyes are shining and Darcie's are teary as they both recall that morning. Darcie says, "My goal has always been to help her find her voice. She found it that morning." Over the next several days the kids sent shoes and money in $10 and $20 amounts. Darcie, wanting to honor the matching funds deal, took unworn, gold jewelry from her drawer and took it to a local pawnshop. The owner was inspired to donate $20 to "Ella's Well." Only a portion of the "gold money" was needed to reach their goal.
On March 4th - less than one week after the letter went out - Ella and Darcie boarded the mission plane with 52 pairs of shoes, 50 dictionaries, a dozen balls and a check for $1,400.
Their arrival was jubilant. Ella says, "It was really awesome, a really cool feeling. I had seen pictures, but this was different. It wasn't a little rectangle with 100 faces. All these children rushed up, hugging me and smiling and wanting to touch my hair." Alice greeted her in a singing, Swahili-tinged English, "I prayed to God. I didn't know how it was going to get done.then here comes El-l·."
Ella shows me a beautiful, hard cover book memorializing the trip. There is a picture of "Ella's Well." She has found her place in the world. She says simply, "It's not this huge deal to change the world.or [even] a small part. You just have to do it."
She is my hero.
New Goal: studying Foreign Policy at Georgetown University.
Most Fun: going with her mother and Alice to Zanzibar, witnessing Alice's first time in a swimming pool and ocean.
Most Interesting Discoveries: On a local Tanzanian bus, everybody knew the words to Shakira's songs.Everybody has a cell phone, no matter how poor.
Check it out: www.valentineblog.net and valentineproject.net.
*Supported through the humanitarian work of Joni & Rick Vander Slice, the mission is working with the Archbishop of Tanzania to build an orphanage.