Seeing Africa and helping the needy

Joan Sullivan, holding a rare Masai headdress, and Marianne

Africa. The mention of the continent may bring up images of wild
animals, vast plains and towering mountains.
But there are other images that come up: Those of hundreds of
children in small schools taught by one teacher, for instance.
Africa. The mention of the continent may bring up images of wild animals, vast plains and towering mountains.

But there are other images that come up: Those of hundreds of children in small schools taught by one teacher, for instance.

That is the image Morgan Hill’s Joan Sullivan gets when she thinks of Africa. But Sullivan has decided she wants to do something about that image. She will travel to Tanzania to not only see the traditional sights, but also to help those students who have little to learn with.

But what inspired Sullivan to help children half a world away? She’s a teacher, or at least she used to be before she retired.

In 1961, Sullivan began teaching kindergarten through third grade in what would later become the Morgan Hill Unified School District.

Sullivan took a break from teaching several years later to raise her family. She slowly went back to the profession, mostly as a substitute teacher until 1990 when she resumed a full-time position.

And Sullivan used to teach her kindergartners about Africa. Sullivan said many of her former students still approach her and mention how her lessons stuck with them.

Sullivan first traveled to Africa 10 years ago and said at that moment she fell in love with it. She has since returned six times.

In her previous visits, Sullivan befriended two women who allowed her and her husband to stay with them during their visit. Unfortunately, the women lived in

Zimbabwe, which has become politically unstable in recent years.

As a result, the two women had to flee the country and Sullivan said she will not be able to enter Zimbabwe again on this trip, which she begins on March 19.

While in Africa, Sullivan will meet up with her son who is there climbing Mount Kilimanjaro.

Now, along with nine others, including several from South Valley, Sullivan is packing up suitcases filled with school supplies and one other thing the children rarely see: soccer balls.

“(It’s) wonderful to give them academic materials, but don’t forget they need something can play with,” she said.

Tim Thornton, who was a teacher for 25 years, will be among the nine who will be going to Africa. Thornton, along with his wife, has been to southern Africa before, but this will be his first trip to the eastern part of the continent.

He said he is looking forward to going, first to help the children, but also to experience a fading treasure. “The trips are never long enough,” Thornton said. “I’m looking forward to seeing areas of world that, like so many places, are shrinking habitats.”

Thornton believes seeing Africa, or any other part of the world, is a must for people see what life is like outside the United States.

“If I had my way, I would send kids before they were 16 years old to different places in the world,” he said. “It helps one’s perspective to see people in other living conditions that are so different from our own. It makes you appreciate what you have that much more.”

On a previous trip, Thornton had the opportunity to interact with some children who had very little. When he arrived, he brought two things: a soccer ball and a book.

“When we arrived, the children quickly surrounded us,” Thornton said. “I pulled out the soccer ball and threw it out, and all the boys went racing off to play with it.”

In the rural areas of Africa, the children normally play soccer with plastic bags they heat over a fire and form into a small ball.

“Children have heard of soccer, but never seen balls,” Sullivan said.

While the boys quickly ran off to play with Thornton’s gift, the girls stayed behind. He took the cue to bring out a book that he read to them while they looked at the pictures.

“After a while, the teachers came out to see who took all their children away,” Thornton said.

Sullivan said the group will be in complete control of the trip, working through personal guides so they don’t have to stick to reservations or time tables. To prepare for the trip, Sullivan has been in contact with other teachers who have also visited the area.

From them, she has learned exactly what to take, including pens, pencils and flash cards for students to learn English.

Sullivan said the areas are so poor they are lucky if they even have one chalkboard. Also, because there are very few teachers, the classes are massive.

“I knew a teacher from Arizona who said she will never complain having 33 kids again after visiting a class in Tanzania,” Sullivan said.

From the advice she has received from other teachers and the son of noted anthropologists Richard and Mary Leaky, Sullivan has been reaching out to different businesses for donations.

She as already received books from Scholastic Magazine as well as other donations from Jerry Kiss from Gilroy’s Intero Real estate.

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