Roseville woman plants flower that blooms into a school in Africa


Roseville resident Bethany Husby with students at the Bethany Pre and Primary School in Kisongo, Tanzania, Africa. (courtesy of Bethany Husby)

Ordinary people can sometimes do extraordinary things — such as Bethany Husby, a Roseville wife, mother and career nurse; an ordinary woman who started a school in Africa. 

From a plant sale in Roseville, Minnesota, grew an elementary school in Kisongo, Tanzania.

The story starts in January 2017 when Husby and her family were on a safari vacation in Tanzania. 

“I met a young man, Emmanuel Boaz, in the gift shop at one of the lodges where we stayed,” she says. 

He wouldn’t smile with his teeth showing, so after striking up a friendship, Husby helped obtain dental care for him. She says she remembers being bullied in grade school for her teeth, which were not improved until she was 17. 

“I knew that if I helped him with his teeth and smile, it would improve his self-confidence,” she says. “His smile now lights up the room and his self-confidence has surged.”

Their friendship grew and she learned that Boaz and his brother-in-law, Ojwang Samwel, had a dream: to build a quality and affordable English-speaking school for boys and girls at the far end of their village. 

“I have always felt education was important,” Husby says. She had a degree of dyslexia that she had to overcome through all her education. “I always knew I had to work harder than most people in school for good grades. Luckily I had teachers who encouraged me and family and friends who were supportive.”

Says Husby, “Ojwang and Emmanuel’s passion for this project seeped into my pores and soon I shared their dream and looked within myself for ways I could help.”

With the help of her family she founded a nonprofit organization, Heart To Care Tanzania, to raise money for the school. In the spring of 2017, Husby had a plant sale. 

“I divided and potted over 5,000 plants from my gardens for the sale,” she says. “We made $16,000 and had a benefit concert and raised another $1,000.”

 

Beginning to grow

She sent enough money in the fall of 2017 to start construction of a school in the small village of Kisongo, on land Ojwang inherited from his father. “The school is very important to the families in this small village,” Husby explains. “Parents are eager to send their children to an English-speaking school, where all subjects are taught and tested in English.”

Whereas the Tanzanian government does run primary schools, the instruction is in Swahili. Then, the classroom instruction and testing changes to English in the government-run secondary schools, leaving many children poorly prepared for their next level of education.

Within three months, locals constructed the first school classrooms. By January 2018, the doors of Bethany Pre and Primary School for underprivileged children opened its doors to 32 children.

The class sizes at government schools are much larger, with as many as 60 children in one classroom. “Our class sizes are smaller and the daily English immersion is very beneficial to the children, especially as they prepare for secondary school,” says Husby. “All the children at Bethany Pre and Primary School are being given a head start in life.”

Husby had a second plant sale in 2018 in which she netted $20,000; she then added a garden party and a baking class. With these additional fundraising efforts, another school building was added and a school bus was purchased.  

“As a result of these efforts, we built another school building, washrooms and had 156 children enrolled for the January 2019 school year,” Husby says. “I take no administrative costs — all proceeds go directly to the children’s school.”

With tons of energy and a stick-to-it spirit, Husby says she believes “that with God all things are possible,” a belief she garnered from her pastor father. She also gives credit to her family: husband Paul, sons Joseph, Erik and David and daughter-in-law Katy.  

“I have a very supportive family,” says the 57-year-old. Her husband has a degree in business administration and runs the finance side of the nonprofit organization. Two of her sons studied computer programming and helped create the website, www.HeartToCareTanzania.org. The website describes the program and encourages donor participation. 

Husby’s sister-in-law, Jean Milton, also is to be commended as she’s the one who planned and sponsored that first trip to Africa and has helped at all of the fundraising events.

 

Support into the future

Support for the school continues to grow. Falcon Heights Elementary School fourth graders began a pen pal program, exchanging letters with students at Bethany Pre and Primary School this year. 

And then the same fourth graders created a “school store,” making and selling their goods to other students at their school. Bethany reports they earned $357.34 and donated all the proceeds to the Tanzanian school. “The Falcon Heights students were so proud.”

This summer Husby had a garden party benefit in her family’s backyard, which included a picnic buffet supper, music, silent auction and cake walk. Friends and family enjoyed the perfect summer evening event and were updated with a progress report on the school.

Pamrell Larsen, who became acquainted with Husby through a friend and plants, came from Milwaukee, Wisconsin, to attend the party. 

“I call her my angel,” Larsen says of Husby. In fact, Larsen and her family were so impressed with Husby’s school project that they decided to fund the construction of a library. The Larsen Family Library Building is nearly complete and will add to the school complex.

Although the school is up and running, says Husby, “We are still in urgent need of support.”

More children need to be supported with tuition and the school needs a fence, which is a government requirement for the safety of students. Also needed are more electrical wiring and light fixtures, additional tables and chairs in the community center, as well as bus repairs and ongoing maintenance.

Husby is already preparing for her next plant sale in May 2020, by collecting plants from friends’ gardens. 

“My plans are to oversee the charity and school as long as I am still able — hopefully another 30 years!” she says.

As Husby says on her website, Heart to Care Tanzania views education as the key to empowering a new generation to have better lives and to foster a more just and sustainable world.

Husby went to college for nursing and has worked as a pediatric nurse in bone marrow transplant for 33 years. “I continue to work,” she says, “but my off time is devoted to this new passion, which is close to my heart. I can help children in another way now. I can help them receive a quality and nurturing education.”

 

–Vonny Rohloff can be reached at roseville@lillienews.com.

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