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New Scotland Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, May 27, 2010

It Takes A Village to help build a school in Ethiopia

By Jo E. Prout

VOORHEESVILLE — MaryAnn Morrison’s organization, It Takes A Village, wants to provide a village school for Ethiopian children. It Takes a Village is sponsoring a two-band concert, drum jam, and bake sale Sunday at Old Songs to raise $1,000 of the projected $20,000 needed.

Morrison, a certified special-education teacher, learned about the proposed Ethiopian school from her son’s college friend, Alex French, who spent six months last year in Ethiopia.

French and his fiancée, Kayla Riley, have worked since January to raise money for an elementary school in Gembeltu, Ethiopia.

French went to Africa to help small villages dig wells for reliable water sources. While there, French was asked by village elders to build a school for the children. Between 250 and 300 children attend classes outdoors under shady trees, thanks to volunteer teacher Kasama Jera and three other volunteers.

French met with the local Ethiopian head of education. They found that Gembeltu is far enough away from other elementary schools that the village could be considered its own district. The Ethiopian government will create a budget for an existing school, but will not fund a new one, Morrison explained. In Ethiopia, costs to build and equip a four-room school are about $20,000.

“It’s just amazing to me that such a young man can have such a vision, and accomplish it,” Morrison said about French. “He’s raised almost half the money, so far.” The couple has organized poetry readings, silent auctions, and concerts to help fund the school. They hope to have raised the full amount by November.

“We are very confident that we will achieve our goal by November. It is actually looking like we will meet our goal this summer with the upcoming events,” Riley, a New York State teacher, told The Enterprise. She visited French in Ethiopia over her winter break and also met with the Gembeltu villagers. “We’ve raised over $10,000 at this point, and with the fund-raisers going on right now, and coming up in the next few weeks, we anticipate meeting our goal early.”

She continued, “Currently, we are on a website for a professional fund-raising organization called Tipping Bucket, working to raise $5,000 for us through micro-donations. This fund-raiser ends for us on Saturday, and it is all-or-nothing. If we do not hit the goal, the donors aren’t charged, and we don’t get a penny.”

“How blessed we are”

Morrison, herself, encourages small donations along with larger amounts.

“You don’t have to beg or plead. People say, ‘Let me give what I can give.’ ” Morrison said about the school project. “Just a little bit from everybody makes a whole lot of difference to people who don’t have a lot.”

“As a teacher, I understand the elders’ belief that education will open so many doors for the children of this village, and allow them to explore their potential, and the desire to give that opportunity to their children above all else,” Riley told The Enterprise. “The [children’s] curiosity and desire to learn is moving, and the cohesion of the villagers was impressive.”

In Voorheesville, Morrison’s son, Rob Morrison, will perform with his two bands, Dirty Paris and Mother McRees, this coming Sunday at Old Songs at 37 South Main Street. Voorheesville natives Josh Ross, Thomm LaFond, and Jeremy Ferguson have performed together with Morrison and singer Laura Baboulis for four years. Morrison and LaFond also play with local musicians Dmitriy Bolotny and Chris Duffy.

When MaryAnn Morrison asked the bands to participate in the Memorial Day concert, “Both bands said, ‘Yeah,’ ” Morrison said. “For Alex, they would do anything. They appreciate this cause. How blessed we are that we don’t even have to think about that our children don‘t have to go out and study under trees, without restrooms and paper.”

It Takes a Village

Morrison founded her not-for-profit organization nine years ago.

“I collect money and goods on an ongoing basis for such programs as New Day Art in Albany, Schuyler Inn in Menands, Shoes for the Shoeless, and other programs where I may be of some service,” Morrison said. She also sits on the board of directors for Old Songs.

“Part of our mission is to be a community arts center. The fund-raiser will be a great activity for families and friends to share in and have a really fun time while contributing to an amazing humanitarian effort,” she said. “How many 23-year-olds have the courage and compassion and vision and drive to raise enough money to build a school for children half a world away, and go help build it? I just had to be a part of this in some meaningful way.”

French and Riley will be in Voorheesville to speak about the project and their time in Africa between band performances on Sunday.

“We’re really excited,” Riley said about their visit.

Auction baskets, baked goods, and raffles of gift certificates and services from local businesses, including Renue Spa and Hannaford, will also be available during the concert. Local drummers are invited to participate in an African Drum Circle, or what Morrison dubbed a “drum jam” between performances, she said.

Those who cannot attend the concert can donate online through French and Riley’s website, www.engagenowafrica.org/#/special-projects/. The couple originally hoped that 200 people would each donate $100 to help them reach their $20,000 goal, according to their website. Morrison has broken that out further to 100 concert-goers donating $10 to raise $1,000.

“It makes it eminently doable. Little by little, it’ll be there,” she said. “It’s just an amazing thing to be part of.”


The Memorial Weekend Concert at the Old Songs Building at 37 South Main Street, Voorheesville, begins at 2 p.m. on Sunday. Suggested donations are $10 for adults, and $5 for students.

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