Martin Luther King day seemed like the perfect day to interview my friend, Marjorie Schlenoff, Founder of Teach With Africa Foundation – Fund a Teacher, Change the World, for my Hear Me Roar Blog.
I wanted you to get to know her and understand why following her passion has motivated her to fully show up in the world. Perhaps her energy, strength and vision will inspire you to follow your own dreams and make the most of every minute of your life.
Marjorie’s story started in 2005 when she found out she had breast cancer and instead of it being a death sentence, it turned out to be a wake up call. It certainly seemed that way for Marjorie, who already by many standards had lead, an impactful life. Happily married for forty years to her childhood sweet heart, Larry, and also a mother of two wonderful daughters, and if that wasn’t enough, Marjorie has been a psychoanalyst for over 30 years, having years ago moved her successful practice from the East Coast to San Francisco.
I began the interview by asking Marjorie to take a short break from her busy schedule to share in her own words how a single trip to Africa had changed her outlook on life, and ended up defining Marjorie Schlenoff at her core.
Question: Marjorie, what happened to you during your first trip to South Africa, that connected you so deeply to the people of South Africa?
Answer: Their outlook on life was so positive and upbeat, it was contagious; they continue to have hope and belief in their country even in the face of so many real challenges. I felt so blessed to share my time with them. To learn from them and somehow, even if I didn’t know how, I wanted to stay connected with them, long after I had returned home to the USA.
Question: Of the people you spoke with, what was the biggest challenge they personally faced on a daily basis?
Answer: After speaking to mothers, fathers, and children alike, they all told me they wanted desperately to have access to quality education. They felt as a nation South Africa would never thrive without accessible education for all of its citizens. The fact that many students are willing to walk miles just to attend a day of schooling should be proof enough of their commitment to learning.
Question: What gave you the courage to start your non-profit foundation, Teach with Africa?
Answer: After listening to the same problem faced by so many people, I finally realized it was a sign for me to stop listening and get involved by taking action. As a mother and as a psychoanalyst, I strongly believe that education is fundamental in bringing about positive change. What I didn’t know immediately was how I could get involved?
At first I thought I could contact an existing organization in South Africa and make a donation. But that didn’t feel right or enough. I could feel it in my bones that my life was changed forever because of my trip to South Africa. There was a bigger reason for me to be here. I had so much to learn from these wonderful vibrant people, and I had witnessed such courage. I felt we had shared our hopes and dreams with each other, and now our lives were connected forever.
I decided by the end of my trip to create a foundation, which would respond to the needs of the people. Hence, Teach with Africa. I had no idea what I was doing at the time; I just knew how happy and alive I felt, and continue to feel every day of my life. However, I couldn’t do it alone and thankfully I didn’t have to. I drew on the wisdom, support, and love of my husband Larry.
In just a few days, Teach with Africa will celebrate its fifth year of providing education through funding teachers and programs, to eager students in South Africa. I feel so blessed and proud of what we are doing.
Question: Why do you think your organization has been so successful?
Answer: There are a number of reasons why we are successful. Amy Schoew, our executive director is the best ever, and we have a supportive and experienced board. Our teachers are amazing, and our teaching programs are effective and practical. Couple that with our ability to source aligned and collaborative partnerships, for example with The LEAP Science & Maths Schools, they do such a fantastic job with John Gilmour at the helm. I also believe that when people hear about the Teach with Africa mission and values, they simply love what the organization is doing and they want to get involved. They want to make a difference, just like I do, I told you, its contagious.
Question. What words of wisdom can you share with others that are thinking about starting their own foundation or getting involved in a non-profit organization?
Answer. Don’t start anything without honestly asking yourself if you are passionate about what you going to be doing with your time, energy or money. Following your passion, spend your time doing what you feel excited and happy about. Secondly, Teach with Africa has not been set up in a hero mode; we have a commitment to view each other as equals, allowing us to build effective and lasting relationships with everyone involved in our organization and programs.
As we end the interview I appreciate Marjorie for everything she has done, I find listening to her inspiring and I enjoy her infectious energy and vision for change. I always look forward to hearing what’s next in store for Marjorie.
If after reading about Marjorie’s life altering journey, you would like to support her foundation Teach With Africa, there are a number of ways to do so. You may want to volunteer, make a donation or attend the annual fundraising gala benefit in San Francisco on February 11th 2012 at the St. Regis Hotel, San Francisco, for more details please click on: http://www.teachwithafrica.org
About Teach With Africa:
Teach With Africa is a non-profit organization empowering students and teachers by bringing educators to Africa to teach and learn. Teach With Africa supports academic programs, educational leadership initiatives, and community development training by placing experienced educators in underserved schools and centers. We are committed to working with local partners to create success for African students and teachers. For additional information click on http://www.teachwithafrica.org
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