Powering Potential is continuing its mission with a new computer lab in the San Francisco Rio Itaya School in the Belén District.
“It takes a village to raise a child” is a popular African proverb, and Lowell and Linda Rice have taken this message to heart. They believe that education is the key that opens doors to the future, and that it is possible to achieve success by working together as a community.
The couple both spent decades in the school system — Lowell as a teacher and coach for over forty years, and Linda as a teacher and later as a principal and administrative coach. Early in their teaching careers, they went to Kenya.
“We were, of course, teachers, and we were always interested in traveling and interested in the world,” Lowell reflects. “Then we got an opportunity through a mission program to go to Kenya as qualified teachers.”
At the time, Kenya had only been independent for about seven years, and they weren’t producing enough local, qualified teachers. So Lowell and Linda spent two years at a government-run boy’s secondary school, before moving to a remote area for four years, where they helped establish primary and secondary schools, as well as a preschool.
Even after they moved back to the United States, Africa always remained top of mind. In 1983, they began leading safaris with groups consisting mainly of friends, and as word spread, the popularity of the tours grew.
“The great experience that we had living and working in Africa, seeing the beauty of the country and the animals, we wanted to introduce as many of our friends as we could to a different culture, a new culture,” Lowell says.
The Rice's started bringing supplies and clothing to schools, requesting that each person in their group bring one suitcase designated to hold those items. But that wasn’t enough for Linda and Lowell. They wanted to do more to help the people who had become so dear to them.
Ten years ago the couple, along with three other colleagues, formed a nonprofit humanitarian Christian organization and named it Pathways/Africa. They describe their purpose as creating permanent change in the lives of men, women, and children in the locations they serve, which are in Kenya, Tanzania, South Africa, and Zimbabwe.
“All five of us had worked and lived in Africa; our heart was already there,” Lowell says. “It wasn’t hard, because we were all like-minded. It wasn’t difficult for us to brainstorm and realize that we could take this a step further. And actually, officially, do something to help the people.”
It was with this realization that the seed was planted, and as it began to germinate, so did their desire to help with providing education, clothing, and supplies. They quickly identified their first project, to assist with opening a school for children with special needs. “We had a former student of ours who graduated and went on to teacher training school, and was then accepted to go to university in Kenya,” Linda recalls.
Lawrence Olubero opened the Daisy School for Handicapped Children in Kakamega, Kenya, and it was soon running so efficiently that he was able to turn his attention to a new passion project. He then opened a new school, the Rainbow School for Epileptic Children, which Pathways/Africa also supports.
In addition to these Kenyan schools, Pathways also works with Isiphiwo Primary School and Ilitha Preschool in Cape Town, South Africa; and Living Water Children’s Center and Lazeli Girls’ Secondary School in Arusha, Tanzania, where they assist with school supplies and clothing.
After speaking with Pastor Ernest Moyo at a local church in Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe, they determined that there was a strong need in the community for sanitary products for women and girls. They felt this was especially important because without a solution to manage one's cycles, the chance for being infected with tetanus multiplies exponentially.
(One in ten girls in Sub-Saharan Africa will be infected with tetanus each year. Due to lack of supplies, many women have been forced to use banana leaves, which often carry the tetanus bacterium.)
Young girls often miss several days of school a month because of lack of access to supplies. So Pathways/Africa found a solution: they partnered with Days for Girls, a Washington-based nonprofit, to design washable sanitary kits.
Days for Girls has a pattern for the sanitary kits that they make available for free to any nonprofit. This sanitary kit now includes ten washable pads, a pad holder, two pairs of underwear, washcloths, soap, and a bag that they can wash the items in. The kit has the potential to last for up to three years.
The organization worked with seamstresses in the US to create the kits, and as more people learned about their endeavors, they soon had more help than they anticipated. Their church, Purpose Church (formerly First Baptist Church of Pomona), also offered its support. A handful of these volunteers were also seamstresses, and they helped to provide clothing, as well as to sew the sanitary kits that would make their way over to Zimbabwe.
Spurred by the desire to meet the demand for sanitary kits in the area, they worked with Trymore Ndolo, a local community leader, to form a micro-enterprise with the Zimbabwe government. Called Pathways Women Empowerment and Girl Child Support, its goal is to train the women there to make the kits themselves.
The organization brought four of the seamstresses from home to train the women in Zimbabwe, and they also sent three Zimbabwean women to technical school for three months to learn basic sewing skills. Pathways/Africa has made the commitment to support each of the women for two years, with the goal that they become financially independent and open their own businesses in the future.
Looking toward the future, Lowell and Linda identify their number one priority as supporting the micro-enterprise in Victoria Falls. Their seamstresses have sourced patterns for diapers and receiving blankets, which they are also working on. However, their most major need is good-quality fabric. Members of their safari groups now bring as much fabric as they can carry in their suitcases.
They would also like to build a bigger workshop to accommodate more seamstresses.
“The workshop is tiny and it will be difficult for them to expand if they have more than three seamstresses, because you can’t get any more people in that building,” Lowell says. Ideally, they would construct a building that is at least two or three times the current size.
“That way we can really expand, with more people sewing and what they’re producing will be available to so many more people,” he adds.
Danielle Bauter is a freelance writer from California who loves writing about people and organizations that are dedicated to making the world a better place. Her work has been published in ELLE, Ms. Magazine, Atlas Obscura, and the Orange County Register. She is also a devoted bibliophile and writes a monthly column about books for Coast Magazine.Learn More
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