The Wall Street Journal features SHARE

Shannon McNamara headshot in the Wall Street Journal

Teen's Organization Helps Educate Girls in Tanzania

What initially began as a simple effort to provide girls with books has grown into a nonprofit that is changing lives for hundreds of girls in Tanzania.

In 2008, then 15-year-old Shannon McNamara and her family took a vacation to volunteer at a school in Bukoba, Tanzania. She was struck by how few school supplies and books the girls had and how unequal the education and resources for girls are compared to their male counterparts.  

So she decided to collect items from friends and family to send to the school via a nongovernmental organization. She sent 500 pounds of donated books and establisheda library at the school.

Meeting the people in Africa, seeing up close what their lives were like and knowing that we as a family had the potential to make a difference it was something that we couldn't turn away from," says Ms. McNamara, now 18.

And so SHARE, Shannon's After-school Reading Exchange, was founded in Basking Ridge, N.J., where Ms. McNamara lives. Since 2008, she, her parents and older brother and sister have established four libraries with 33,000 books, created reading programs, outfitted classrooms with computers, renovated classrooms, built a dining hall and brought electricity to schools. To do this, Ms. McNamara and her family have raised more than $200,000 for the projects.

The organization has stopped sending books because the current libraries are sustainable and "it's too expensive to ship them," says Ms. McNamara. On the family's annual trip to Tanzania this month, they took 10 donated e-readers and digital cameras.

SHARE is now focusing its efforts on a scholarship program for girls. So far the organization has sponsored three girls to attend the Hekima Girls' Secondary School in Bukoba at an annual cost of about $1,000 per student. Ms. McNamara hopes to provide 100 scholarships.

"Books are one thing but what happens when a girl has a father who dies and now she can't go to school anymore because she doesn't have the money?" says Ms. McNamara.

"What's the point of a library if they can't actually put their education to use?"

Ms. McNamara says she can see how much the girls have learned since that first meeting in 2008. Their English has improved and their confidence has grown, she says.

SHARE will continue to grow, as Ms. McNamara begins college at Rice University in Houston this fall. She will start a chapter of her organization there and friends will do the same at their colleges. A pen pal program with girls keeps everyone connected.

By Melanie Grayce West, The Wall Street Journal, July 22, 2011