Alumni Couple Support East African School, OWU’s Commitment to Global Learning
When Gordon Smith ’54 and Helen Crider Smith ’56 graduated from Ohio Wesleyan University, Tanzania did not exist as an independent country.
What did exist was the couple’s commitment to developing international connections, and the importance of that continues to play a role in the Smiths’ lives and philanthropic endeavors.
“I think it all sort of ties in with Ohio Wesleyan, with all their global learning,” Helen Smith says. “They realize how important it is to know about other places in the world.”
The two are generous donors to Ohio Wesleyan and also provide financial support for one of Tanzania’s leading private schools, The School of St. Jude, which provides elementary through high school education for children living in poverty.
The Smiths first encountered the need for improved education in Tanzania in 2004 while on a family trip and, after research, selected The School of St. Jude as the best way to make a difference.
“The idea was to find the best place to help,” Gordon Smith says. “Just to throw money at something doesn't make any sense.”
Helen Smith says the school focuses on the poorest of the poor and, after verification and testing, takes one child per family until spots are filled. This allows knowledge to be spread as widely as possible, as the students share what they learn with siblings.
At the start, the couple says, the school received around 15,000 applicants for between 140 and 150 positions. Now, The School of St. Jude enrolls 1,914 students, and one of its first students recently earned scholarships to Stanford, Brown, and Duke universities to continue his education.
Although high school graduation is rare in Tanzania, The School of St. Jude’s first graduating class had a 100 percent pass rate – with more than half finishing at the highest level, “with distinction.”
“Our involvement has been mainly … doing a lot of the building on the campus,” Helen Smith says. (The school’s Smith Campus was dedicated in 2008 with the Tanzanian Minister of Education and the U. S. and Australian Ambassadors in attendance.)
While Ohio Wesleyan has had a study abroad program in Tanzania for several years, the 2016 spring semester saw increased collaboration with The School of St. Jude, enriching the experience of eight OWU students who recently returned from Africa.
Despite being a first-year student, Nina Carmichael-Tanaka ’19 was able to take part in the international experience, and it’s shaped how she’ll view her next three years.
A Minnesota resident, Carmichael-Tanaka came to Ohio Wesleyan, in part, because of its international study opportunities – but the Tanzania program was not one she’d considered.
Having Dr. Randy Quaye as an advisor changed that.
An associate professor of Black World Studies, Quaye oversees the Tanzania program. Carmichael-Tanaka’s talks with him and a lecture he promoted got her on board.
“It definitely puts in perspective how much I have taken for granted the opportunities that I've had,” Carmichael-Tanaka says. “I mean, obviously everyone's experiences are different. It was nice to take a step back and have everything be put in perspective for you.”
Helen Smith says she hopes to continue to deepen and enrich that perspective by bringing some of The School of St. Jude teachers to Ohio Wesleyan this fall.