Not everyone has the luxury of engaging in something as simple as reading a book. While it may be difficult for people at an institute of higher education to believe, illiteracy is a problem that continues to plague communities around the world. Boston College’s Legacy Grant Program has given students the opportunity to fight against social issues, like illiteracy, by granting up to $5,000 for the development of underprivileged communities. Two BC students, Daniel Moverman, MCAS ’18, and Tara Hebert, MCAS ’18, were determined to combat theses issues.
These two Legacy Grant recipients and pre-med BC seniors devoted great time and effort to developing libraries with literary and technological resources in Kenya and Massachusetts.
Moverman was born and raised in Easton, Mass., just south of Boston. He ran cross country and track during high school and during his first two years at BC. As a biology major pursuing a pre-med track, Moverman plans on attending medical school after graduating.
Initially, Moverman learned about the Legacy Grant through a mass email which he almost moved into his trash bin. But he decided to open it.
Moverman received funding to construct the first public library within the Langas Slum in Kenya. The money went towards purchasing books, bookshelves, desks, and computers for the library. The library was an extension of the Pamoja Mentors Program, a non-profit organization in Eldoret, Kenya. In Swahili, “Pamoja” means “together.” It serves as a mentorship program for the youth in the community.
“It seemed like a great opportunity for the project that my brother and I had begun,” he said.
Moverman’s brother, Micheal, is the co-founder of the program along with his fellow classmate from Duke University. He decided to found this organization because he wanted to give the underprivileged the same opportunity for great teachers and education as he had experienced throughout his life.
Moverman is now the vice president of the organization.
“We try to focus on mentorship within the framework of education. We are trying to foster and help the reading culture in Kenya,” Moverman said.
There are four different sectors of the organization—the library, vocational school, school programs, and community programs. The library was the main focus for Moverman. The summer after his freshman year at BC, he went to Eldoret, Kenya for the first time, having never been out of the United States for an extended period. During his visit, he participated in a two-week mentorship summer camp where he was in charge of 20 children, some of whom didn’t speak English fluently, which Moverman found nerve-wracking at times. In the end, however, he made strong connections with the children.
Moverman still sports bracelets that the children made him.
In Eldoret, Moverman was surprised by the extreme poverty and misfortune he saw, saying that it was extremely tough to see these realities. While he had seen such worldly conditions on TV, he admits that it was not until he saw with his own eyes and interacted with the individuals that reality really sunk in.
Toward the end of the two weeks, other mentors in the community approached Moverman and his brother about starting a new relief project within the Langas Slums, where the greatest help was needed. One of these mentors was Lameck who currently serves as the program leader in Kenya. Lameck grew up in the Langas Slums and is now a prominent leader, teacher, and “motivator” within his community.
“[He] really wanted to be involved in something that was long-lasting,” Moverman said.
Moverman and his brother were already brainstorming ways to expand their work in Kenya when they returned to the U.S., and the Legacy Grant was a perfect opportunity to gain the resources they needed. The pair dedicated hours of time and effort to completing the application and were sure that the committee would understand their goal. Come fall of Moverman’s sophomore year, however, they did not receive a call for an interview.
This initial setback did not stop them. The following year, they applied again, received an interview, and got the grant. At first, they intended to use the money to help bring leaders and teachers into the community for the summer camp. Instead, Lameck helped shape their goals into more long-term projects that could have a lasting impact on the Langas Slums.
In the slum there were no libraries, so they decided to build the first public library. Most individuals in the community did not have the economic means to attend school or buy books. Building a library would give the community access to education and leadership, and keep children off the streets and away from drugs.
The library contains both academic and fiction books, and has four desktop computers along with internet access.
“The library is kind of the cornerstone of what we do,” Moverman said.
He believes that without the library, the Pemoja Mentors Program might not be active today.
Moverman was surprised by how many people attended the library. The kids were motivated to learn. Moverman said that there were 12-year-olds who would even walk a couple of miles to spend the day at the library.
“They were very friendly kids that have a thirst for learning,” he said.
In the future, the program will focus on further developing the library as well as the vocational school. Within the vocational school, they are currently running a six-month pilot program on graphic design. It is taught within the library, using the computers funded by the grant.
After his time working in Kenya, Moverman has been inspired to work with Doctors without Borders to help underprivileged communities meet medical needs.
Closer to home, Tara Hebert built a library right here in Massachusetts upon receiving the Legacy Grant.
Like Moverman, she was completely unaware of the Legacy Grant program at Boston College until she came across a mass email during her sophomore year. Spontaneously, she decided to apply while binging Grey’s Anatomy in bed.
Hebert volunteered at St. Mary’s Center for Women and Children through BC’s PULSE program. There, she worked closely with the Margaret’s House floor, where there were about 36 families, of mothers and their children.
Every Tuesday and Thursday, she would interact with the children through activities such as homework, baking, outdoors playground time, and other exciting activities including holiday festivities.
She also helped manage a boutique within the community that would distribute donated clothes to the members of the community who would complete all of their communal duties.
Hebert strongly believed that a library would be a great addition to the center. She noted the need for books and computers so that the children could get their daily dose of reading. Hebert believed it could be useful for after-school activities with the children.
Hebert wanted to provide the children with stimulating and exciting reading material rather than the often damaged, donated books that no one really wants. Since most mothers are immigrants who are not fluent in English, she saw low literacy rates as detrimental to the community’s development. Hebert adamantly believes that reading is constructive to the lives and education of children from an early age, especially at bedtime, as it was for her growing up. Reading is now an integral part of her life from day to day.
“I am hoping that it encourages a life-long love of reading,” Hebert said.
Reading was encouraged by her parents which fostered in her a personal love of literature. Similarly, the children expressed a deep-rooted desire for reading so Hebert wanted to provide them with the necessary tools to do so, within a productive environment.
“In reality, I’m hoping it just exposes them to literature earlier … so many of those kids are still so young so being exposed to it at an early age before they enter school can have a really positive outcome on educational attainment,” Hebert said.
She received her first grant during her sophomore year with which she created a library within the Margaret’s House community.
“It was about setting up a sustainable space for a library,” she said.
Hebert was shocked that she actually received this grant because of some mishaps that occurred during her interview as well as the fact that she was an underclassman.
After getting it, she was able to set up bookshelves filled with rich reading material for the children in both English and Spanish.
“I made sure to get Harry Potter and things that you looked fondly back on,” she said enthusiastically.
After completing the library, Hebert was still dissatisfied with the resources in the community. Technological resources were lacking. People only had access to one computer which was not nearly enough for 36 mothers to take full use of it.
One of Hebert’s most memorable interactions was with a young mother she grew close with during her service at Margaret’s House. The mother hoped to study hospitality, but she needed to apply for the SAT first. She was given a fee waiver, but by the time the computer was finally available for use, the voucher had expired. Her opportunity was hindered by the lack of accessible technology.
Following her first Legacy Grant, she became very involved with the Legacy Grant program. Hebert was in charge of sending emails and keeping the community informed about Legacy Grant opportunities through information sessions. She worked closely with Megan Duhn, who encouraged continued involvement with Margaret’s House.
While Hebert was unable to visit Margaret’s House as often after completing the PULSE program, she was inspired to continue helping this community. So she met with the directors of Margaret’s House to see what could be done about the unideal technology situation.
After reaching a consensus on the critical need for technology in the community, Hebert was able to receive her second grant this past summer. So “Margaret’s House Technological Literacy Initiative” was established, said Hebert.
This initiative provided Margaret’s House with four computers, a laptop, and a projector. This included equipping them with software programs such as Microsoft Word. These resources play a large part alongside the library to promote educational development.
The role of PULSE student volunteers each semester is to make sure that the library and all of its resources are properly utilized as well as to guarantee access. The space is also intended for class use.
“[It was] meant to be a sustainable way that they could continue to teach, but also provide access to these tools,” she said.
She describes her interactions with the families as extremely enriching and “positive.” She enjoyed seeing their joyful responses to activities such as face painting for Halloween and egg hunts for Easter. Laughing, she admitted that her only complaint while interacting with the children is that they always got her sick. The value of her experience, however, completely surpassed the insignificant downside of getting a cold.
“Recognizing and being able to see that they are taking something that I thought would be so useful and that I saw a need for and really transforming it to meet their needs, I think is really cool,” Hebert said.
Featured Image by Sam Zhai / Heights Staff