I first traveled to Tanzania in November 2006. This was six amonths after graduating from college, where I majored in Health & Societies with a concentration in African Health, along with taking a pre-med curriculum. I planned to stay in Tanzania for several months and then apply to medical school. I volunteered in a maternal and child health clinic during the morning hours and early on, found an orphanage center where I spent my afternoons. It didn’t take long for me to literally fall in love with the kids at Matumaini Child Care Center. There were about nine kids at the beginning who had all been orphaned by AIDS, and they were the most joyous, sweet, generous children I had ever had the privilege to meet. Within the first week or two I was already writing home to fundraise money in hopes of providing the children with three meals per day and school fees, which were the most basic needs at the time.
After four months, I met Michelle Kowalczyk, a nurse from Nebraska. I was at the end of my trip while Michelle was just beginning hers. Our trips overlapped for one week, during which a friendship was born out of a basic common interest: giving of our time to help those in need. Michelle came to work in the same clinic and I also introduced her to Matumaini, where she too fell in love. Michelle completed great work at the center, including the purchasing of bunk beds and renovation of the latrines and when her time in Tanzania came to an end, we began to talk about what had to come next. Hundreds of email exchanges and phone calls later, it was October 2007 when Michelle and I decided that starting a nonprofit was something we really wanted to do in order to help support Matumaini and take on other projects in the area. We spoke with three others about joining our efforts and they did; and Knock Foundation was born.
Knock was really created from the passion Michelle and I developed for the kids and the surrounding community. The enormous smiles and depth of spirit of the people were unmatched by anyone else we knew. And to us it really wasn’t a choice – the only question was: “How can we not do this?” From helping nine children in the beginning, Knock now works with over 1,000 people in the Kilimanjaro Region of Tanzania, and that number continues to grow.
Knock’s mission is to create opportunities for under-served populations in the developing world. We do this by partnering with local communities and together developing comprehensive, self-sustaining and holistic practices designed to alleviate poverty and its attendant problems. At present, we have accomplished a myriad of successful projects. We fully support Matumaini Child Care Center, having constructed them a brand new facility complete with two dormitories, a dining hall, and two classrooms. The new center houses 40 orphaned and vulnerable children and serves as a community center as well. Knock also provides support for Mrupanga Primary School by running a lunch program, whereby all 400 students are given lunch everyday. In addition, Knock offers educational scholarships to bright and deserving students, helps to run an income-generating project, and has completed two medical missions and a school-building trip in Kenya.
I spend about ¾ of the year in Tanzania, running our projects on the ground. When I am in the U.S., I work on fundraising efforts, speak to interested groups, and manage some of the business aspects involved in running a non-profit organization. Whether I am in Tanzania or California, I can truthfully say I learn something new everyday. Running an organization is challenging. Working in Tanzania, although I love what I do, comes with its difficulties. I’ve had to learn how to work within the context of a completely different culture, constantly being conscious to accept the differences that exist and be patient with people. I do speak Swahili fluently, so that has made the work much easier and has given me an advantage in becoming a true member of the community. In addition, a non-profit is like running a business, something I had no experience in doing. So I have learned an immense amount about accounting and the legalities of the organization.
Although I get paid very little, I feel incredibly rich in my soul. Everyday I feel lucky to have found something about which I am so passionate at a young age. I literally cannot imagine doing anything else. Making a positive difference in the lives of others is really all I want to do in life. This certainly wasn’t the path I had in mind when I set out to Tanzania 4 ½ years ago, but I couldn’t be more grateful and truly happy with how my life has developed.
for more information on the Knock Foundation and how you can get involved click here