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New student organization tutors children in Ghana

Photo provided by Natalie Yaeger
Photo provided by Natalie Yaeger

A new student organization at Mercer is working to mentor children in villages around the world, seeking to help address poverty through providing education to low-income communities internationally.

Mercer Village Mentors was founded in late September 2020. Organizers at Village Book Builders, the organization which coordinates the village mentor program, approached juniors Natalie Yaeger and Parneeta Mohapatra about starting a chapter on campus after the students worked with them earlier that year.

Village Book Builders currently helps provide communities in countries with high dropout rates the resources to build libraries complete with books, computers and internet access at their local schools, CEO Tyler Clark said.

The communities build their libraries, name them and run them themselves. With each new library, Village Book Builders are able to partner with village mentor programs at universities who can mentor these students virtually, Clark said.

“These library and these mentor programs give these students some of the best education in their countries,” Clark said. “The ability to connect with a college student is life-changing for them… It is empowering for these kids and gives them hope for what they can do.”

In Uganda, one of the countries where Village Book Builders operates, 68% of kids drop out of school before sixth grade, Clark said. In communities with these programs, the organization has been able to reduce that rate to only 10%.

According to Clark, every additional year a student stays in school, their annual income tends to increase by 10%. This means that if they can keep a student in school up until 7th grade, they can lift these students out of extreme poverty.

“The dropout rate in these countries are terrible,” Clark said. “If they have a mentor who care about them, they stay in school.”

After mentoring children individually during late 2019 and early 2020, Yaeger, Mohapatra and Vice President Ashton Taylor enjoyed the program from their prior experiences so much that they decided to create a chapter exclusively for Mercer students.

Yaeger first started volunteering with Village Mentors after realizing the discrepancy in the education that students were receiving due to the effects of COVID-19. She saw her siblings struggling with online classes and imagined what it’d be like in different areas around the world.

“If there’s anything I learned during quarantine, it was that we have to take those moments to do what we can to make a difference,” Yeager said. “This was just one way that I found.”

Currently, Mercer students are mentoring students in Adeiso, Ghana.

One of the students that Village Books Builders works with in Adeiso, Mathias, works as what is essentially a shepherd, Clark said. Because his parents died, he is raised by his aunt.

When they were building the library in Adeiso, Clark said, Mathias would come down to the library every day after work since he wanted to come and read books.

“When we told him he could not only just read the books but get a mentor, he was overwhelmed,” Clark said. “He felt like he had a hope of the future. He felt he would have just have to be a shepherd the rest of his life like the rest of his family. Now, he wants to be a doctor.”

Student mentors at Mercer are paired with one child to work with over eight months. Mentors indicate their availability when they first apply to the program.

Mohapatra said that interested students submit a short application, including a two-minute video that is used to gauge applicants’ interest in committing to the program.

During a normal session, Mohapatra said that mentors base whatever they’re teaching their mentee off of what their mentee is currently learning in school. However, because schools are currently not in session due to COVID-19, the mentors must adapt, she said.

“The tutors are really having to step up and create their own curriculums for each day that they tutor,” Mohapatra said.

In Adeiso, the pandemic has had a huge impact on their community, Clark said. With schools out of session, many kids have been sent to work in the gold mines in the region, but he said the pandemic has caused tons of issues that go beyond child labor.

“Since the pandemic, drug abuse, alcohol use and teen pregnancy has run rampant,” Clark said. “Child labor, sex trafficking, I can go on — and this is what happens when they are out of school. If we can keep them in school, we can keep them out of sex trafficking.”

Yaeger said that the group currently has between 20-25 mentors here at Mercer, but she said that there is still room for growth. She explained that mentors can tailor their involvement to their schedule, as long as it works with the time difference in Ghana.

Moving forward, Yaeger and Mohapatra plan to formalize the curriculum they’ve been developing, they said.

Mohapatra said that their goal is to get the curriculum from the school they partnered with to create resources for future mentors so that mentors can teach in tandem with what their mentees are learning at school.

Later on, they hope to raise enough money to be able to establish another community program as well as hopefully visit Adieso. Both said, however, that would likely be several years down the line.

Mercer Village Mentors’ first general meeting was Jan. 24. Interested individuals can find them on Instagram.


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