Saira Yusuf is a young Asante Africa Foundation supporter who was introduced to the foundation by her mother Paru, a volunteer Board member. Like all mothers, Paru aspires to instill in her children values that create opportunities to become thoughtful individuals with bright futures.
“Be kind. Have integrity. Work hard. Take advantage of your opportunities. Take care of your body. Be curious. These are but a few of the things that as a mother I want my daughters to learn. But at the end of the day, the hopes of the privileged western world are pretty standard and it is the values of global awareness, compassion and a desire to make a difference that I hold close to my heart. My girls are still young and have a lot of discovery ahead of them but knowing that my girls already value these traits as well is very gratifying. That they try to understand and care about some of the challenges kids their age face half way around the world reassures me that as long as we continue to teach our children, they will listen and learn from us because they and the children they are learning to care about are our hope for the future”
Saira was 10 when she went to Bukoba, a rural village in Tanzania, with her family on a volunteer trip. It was here that she learned many children could not go on to secondary school because they could not afford the tuition fees. After discovering the cost of tuition was $150, she realized it was equal to the birthday and holiday money she typically received from her family. She decided to help and founded Rafiki Education Scholarship (RES). She spent two weeks getting to know over 700 children at an impoverished school and realized that choosing who to help would be a difficult task.
“At the time, I wanted to help children who would otherwise have absolutely no chance- this village had a lot of orphans and single mom homes because of AIDS,” she said.
To help her decide who to help, she worked with a local NGO (COSAD) and the secondary school principal at Bukoba. To receive this scholarship, students had to submit essays detailing their career goals and how these goals would benefit their community. Additionally, the students had to express their passion to go to school, come from families in need of financial help and agree to pay it forward by helping others in their communities by tutoring younger kids over their mid- term breaks. She selected 2 girls (Jackline and Diana) and a boy (Godfrey) to be the first recipients of RES.
Although RES was developed, Saira realized her allowances from Christmas, and birthdays could not cover the costs to support her students because they had to go to a boarding school which was more expensive than a day school. Not one to give up easily, she decided to hold a holiday fair fundraiser where people could shop for holiday gifts and all the proceeds would cover the additional expenses of Jackline, Diana and Godfrey’s boarding fees. Throughout summer she learned beading to make jewelry, bookmarks, charms and paintings. She went even further by holding bake sales and got her Girl Scout Troop to help make fleece blankets that were sold to raise additional donations. As a result, she not only raised enough funds for ‘her’ students’ scholarships, but also enough to buy uniforms for an additional 25 primary schools students in the community.
Following the success of her projects, Saira’s sister, Sanam, joined her in 2012 to raise money for Asante Africa Foundation’s Girls Financial Literacy Project and to provide shoes for 25 orphan students in primary school. Both sisters selected these projects because they know the value of empowering girls in learning how to manage money. As Saira says, “I think girls and women should be comfortable with money so that they are not dependent on men to make all the decisions and also women are becoming the breadwinners in their families.”
In Saira’s own words, “I am proud of this project because I saw a problem and decided to fix it. It has been hard with school and my other activities to find time to work on this project as much as I would like. It has been hard but thoroughly rewarding.”