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Woman's smart idea gives African girls a chance

Published Jul. 6, 2006

Her smile, though small, radiates from the picture of her standing in the overgrown brush. Her tiny brown hands tug at her new pink uniform skirt and gray sweater as the Kenyan winds push them closer to her 7-year-old frame. Faith Kedoki will attend school for the first time this year, becoming the third of five siblings to receive an education.

Unable to pay her tuition, Faith's parents rely on the kindness of one St. Petersburg homemaker and her friends, who are determined to make a difference on the African continent, which holds 25 of the poorest countries in the world.

It started last year when Jan Latour, whose children had long departed for college, was watching Diane Sawyer talk about how a child in Africa could be educated for about $16 a year.

"It didn't seem like much money to give," said Latour, 50.

That's when the idea hit her. She was already paying through the nose for the education of her two daughters, one at George Washington University Law School and the other at Auburn University.

Latour thought that if college students paid an extra $20 with the thousands they were spending, they could put millions of African children through school.

So she did what most people do when they have a good idea: She called friends. Beth Potter and Bill Roberts met her at a nearby bakery, which they now call their office, and Latour shared her idea.

"I was so moved by her passion and energy about the idea that she had that when she was done I said, 'Okay. Let's start this journey,' '' said Potter, 49, who works in professional development for a Tampa company.

That was the birth of One Here, One There, a nonprofit group designed to collect donations from college students through an optional tuition add-on to support African schoolchildren.

Soon after, Latour and Roberts went to Washington, D.C., to see anyone they could talk to about the program. Latour thought the idea was well received, but the friends didn't have anything concrete until they made their way to the U.S. Agency for International Development.

At USAID, the door was opened when officials put the group in touch with Michael Matthews, one of its representatives who has worked in Africa and lives in the Tampa Bay area.

"The educational situation in Africa is as about as bad as you can imagine," said Matthews, 38, who first got involved with Africa after meeting a South African student who worked with Nelson Mandela in college.

"I followed him back in 1989 and I haven't looked back."

He has become an independent contractor for educational development in sub-Saharan Africa for USAID and frequently travels to the continent.

Matthews recommended two nongovernmental organizations, Micro-Credit in Africa in Niger and Massai Education Discovery, to help with Latour's dream.

"The two programs operate on a shoestring budget, but they do phenomenal work with the children," Matthews said.

Having a connection to the children was great, but Latour still needed to find the money to give them.

Latour and Potter approached their alma mater, Stetson University, in DeLand, which agreed to be the pilot school. The group involved the school's Student Government Association, which Potter said took the idea and ran with it.

"They held an Africa Day to kick off their Black History Month celebration in February, and they showed pictures to really get the kids motivated to give funds to those who needed it more," Potter said.

Stetson students were motivated to the tune of $11,000 in the program's inaugural year.

To ensure that African students received every penny raised, seed money for administrative costs was provided by the Elizabeth B. McGraw Foundation. The foundation, part of the McGraw Hill book company, has two members on the One Here, One There nine-member board of directors.

Latour said support continues to pour in. She is in talks with other schools to expand the group's reach. For now, the focus will remain on girls in sub-Saharan Africa.

"In (Kenyan) culture, if the parents have eight children, they will send the boys to school before the girls," Matthews said. "But studies show that the mother educates the children, so if we get to the girls, they will perpetuate their education."

Potter said this will be an opportunity to give back on a deeper level.

"For the cost of six cups of Starbucks coffee, you can make a profound difference in a child's life and give them options for their future," she said.

"That's what I love about this program," Matthews said. "There's no limit to how it can impact so many lives."