OAT travelers Bill Staab and Em McEachron rely on local suppliers to support a Tanzanian school
Em McEachron had raised a family and owned a flower shop before she decided to pursue a dream of becoming a teacher. In her late 50s, she earned her certification—and met Bill Staab. When the couple married, Em decided that she would prefer the flexibility of substitute teaching to a permanent classroom. "It's a calling for her," Bill says. "She loves the variety and comes home filled with energy and enthusiasm about her day."
Bill had traveled to Egypt and Australia with Overseas Adventure Travel (OAT) before Em joined him on an OAT Small Ship Cruise to Greece and the Aegean. Bill enjoys the school visits and home-hosted dinners on OAT itineraries, and during his Australia adventure in particular, he was impressed by his visit to the Yipirinya School, which provides bilingual and bicultural education to indigenous students. He knew the school visit would be meaningful to Em on their upcoming OAT adventure to Tanzania.
He was right. "She was quite impacted by the enthusiasm of the kids and the teachers," he says, "and once she saw what they were using for materials, she said, 'We've got to do something to help.'"
She asked the head teacher what would be most useful to the students and learned that what was needed most was composition books. "My wife is enthusiastic, and I love her for it," Bill laughs, recalling that, on their return to their home in Redmond, Washington, Em said, "I'm going to get started on this."
She headed directly to Staples, which provided several boxes of composition books at a reduced cost. Bill cautioned, however, that it might be wise to make some calls before sending the books off. "I've been fortunate to have traveled a bit more to lesser-developed areas than she has, and I know that things aren't always as simple as they seem at home," he explains.
He got in touch with Sandra Vaughan, Grand Circle Corporation's East Africa Operations Coordinator, who assured him that he was right not to send the books directly. "She said, 'Oh, please, don't try to do that,'" he recalls. "She told me that if someone's not right there at customs to make sure it gets in the right hands, the odds are it will just disappear." He adds philosophically, "It's just the way things are in different parts of the world. It's part of the travel experience and the cultural broadening, to realize that everything's not like it is at home."
Bill and Em were still eager to give, however, so when Sandra recommended that they get in touch with Grand Circle Foundation, that's what they did. "They were very supportive," Bill says. The Foundation arranged for the couple's contribution to be used to purchase the composition books locally, at a greater convenience to the school and a much lower cost. As a result, instead of the 400 books originally purchased, students at the school received 1,700.
"It's good to have an emotional reaction from visiting a school," Bill says. "But you can't let it override your common sense and the ability to deal with the local environment. That's where the Foundation and people like Sandra can really help make those kinds of contributions. They know what the lay of the land is and how contributions can be leveraged into an even bigger benefit. The story of leveraging 400 into 1,700 is a perfect example of how working with the Foundation makes sense!"
Featured in our January/February 2013 E-Newsletter. Read the full issue here.