- Rotary InterCountry Teacher Exchange

Posted on Wed, Aug. 06, 2003

Teaching trip changes a life

Star-Telegram Staff Writer
Corey Kowalewski posts thank you notes from students in Tanzania. He says he will use the experience in his Colleyville class.
Corey Kowalewski, a teacher at O.C. Taylor Elementary in Colleyville, taught at a school in Tanzania this summer.

A month of sleeping on a concrete floor and bathing from a bucket helped snap Corey Kowalewski out of his rut.

The Colleyville teacher said he decided to spend July working with students in East Africa because he was burned out from rushing from his classroom to his evening job at a sporting goods store.

"I needed to change some things," said Kowalewski, who teaches third grade at O.C. Taylor Elementary School. "I thought, 'I'm not doing anything that makes me grow.' "

So he applied to the Rotary Intercountry Teacher Exchange. The 11-year-old program has sent teachers all over the world, but Kowalewski was the first to make the trek to Tanzania.

The 27-year-old Wisconsin native didn't have any idea what was in store for him or how working with the poverty-stricken children would affect him. He had never left the United States.

"It was a life changer. It really was," he said. "To see those kids sprint to be in the school, so full of life. It really makes you believe there's a God out there somewhere."

He taught English and computer skills to 130 students at the School of St. Jude in Arusha. The 1-year-old private school, named for the patron saint of lost causes, offers free schooling to some of the poorest children in the area. It was founded by Gemma Sisia, a teacher from Australia.

People throughout the world donate money for tuition, uniforms and hot lunches.

"They're the best and brightest of children, who wouldn't have had a chance if it weren't for this school," Kowalewski said.

Children in the area's public schools attend classes with one teacher and 200 students. If they don't succeed, they're relegated to manual labor in the fields, Kowalewski said.

Many students who do well cannot afford high school tuition.

St. Jude's enrollment is growing every week. It serves children ages 4 to 10 and plans to add a grade every year. The Rotary Club is working to get clean water and Internet access to the school.

Kowalewski knows he has been called to be part of the expansion. He wants to begin raising money in the United States this school year and return to Tanzania for a month or two next summer.

"I knew I was going back before I left. How could you not?" he said.

He also plans to share his experiences with his Colleyville students. He said he hopes they will help collect money to sponsor a child at St. Jude's.

"The way I look at it, my kids don't know. They're innocent. I just want them to understand how lucky they are," Kowalewski said.

Conrad Heede of Bedford, chairman of Rotary Intercountry Teacher Exchange, said Kowalewski's performance this summer was impressive.

"It has changed his life. It has changed him in ways he doesn't even understand yet," Heede said.

Angela Gray, O.C. Taylor principal, said she's glad Kowalewski is sharing his experiences with Colleyville students. When he was in Africa, Kowalewski regularly made an hourlong walk to an Internet cafe so he could keep former Colleyville students updated.

"That really touched me," she said. "I think that is a way to really enrich our students' education. I know it will impact him as he instructs children this coming year."

Jennifer Radcliffe, (817) 685-3875 jradcliffe@star-telegram.com Republished by permission.

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