There are some events that leave an indelible mark on us, changing us forever.
For Kate Bowyer it was the combination of a painful loss and a random adventure that irrevocably altered her path in life..
Looking for adventure
Growing up in the Riverina the daughter of educators, Kate studied psychology at university before starting her career as a family counsellor. When her brother died in late 2004 her outlook on life changed.
“This was an incredibly painful time and it made me think about opportunities differently,” Kate explains.
“I started finding ways to say yes to new experiences more than no. It sounds cliché, but his passing forced me to be braver and care less about small things that once mattered.”
So Kate headed for London in 2005 and travelled through much of the UK and Europe before deciding she wanted to do something new and challenging.
Flicking through a magazine in 2008, Kate saw an advertisement for a volunteer adventure and safari in Tanzania. A couple of months later she was on a plane bound for Dar Es Salaam.
“I was nervous and excited - I had no idea what to expect. All I knew was I was going to Tanzania to teach English in an orphanage. When I arrived I was one of a handful of white travellers. Everything was very different to anything I had ever experienced, especially as I was on my own.”
Saying no to the tourist experience
It seemed like the challenge and adventure she had been craving, however when Kate started working at the Kuleana Centre for Children’s Rights in Mwanza, the impact was immediate and far more profound.
“I’ll always remember the children begging me from outside the Centre’s fences for a meal, or a bed, then disappearing when they were told this was not possible as there was not enough room. Then weeks later, they would appear again, somehow surviving all that time alone, these teeny, tiny kids.”
More than moved by the plight of the children, Kate felt disgusted that this ‘experience’ was sold as tourism.
“It wasn’t until experiencing it first-hand that I realised how wrong it was. As a family counsellor and humanitarian, I considered myself dedicated to the empowerment of kids and here I was paying to experience their disadvantage.
“I learned that children came to the Centre in search of education, often because their parents had suggested that this was their only opportunity for a successful future. Of course, children also run away from home fleeing abuse, domestic violence, issues related to chronic poverty and many other reasons. For most street kids, a goal is to gain entry into already over populated orphanages, where they can access three meals a day, some health care, at least from malaria, and education.”
Kate knew she could no longer be a tourist; she felt compelled to make her trip more purposeful.
“You can imagine the number of volunteers that come and go from orphanages, promising contact, love and support, only to disappear back into their own worlds, leaving broken-hearted children to await the next volunteer.
“I left acutely aware that the primary purpose of my work needed to be the empowerment of children.”
When she arrived home, Kate’s resolve was clear. She established Kuleana Kids in 2009 and raised funds for a small library with working internet, a functional kitchen and paying to fix a broken sewerage system.
Then in 2010 something happened which Kate was unprepared for.
Kate received news that eight boys she had assisted were about to graduate from primary school.
It should be cause for celebration. “But the celebration ended for me when I realised that, now they had finished primary school, these kids were too old for the Centre and had to leave.
“They were to be sent home to families they no longer knew – one of the boys had been at the Centre since he was two – and many had run away from abuse.”
“There was no money for secondary schooling and the reality was that these former street kids were to now become street adults.”
The point of all this hard work failing her, Kate was devastated when one of the boys attempted suicide. She knew she had to do something different.
Little Paths is born
While Kuleana Kids was helping the kids of the Centre in some ways, it wasn’t preventing children from living and working on the streets.
Kate believed that education was the answer.
“So Kuleana Kids became Little Paths, an organisation run entirely by volunteers that strengthens families by supporting them to educate their children by providing secondary school scholarships,” Kate says.
Little Paths currently assists more than 30 families to educate their secondary school aged children on the proviso parents participate by ensuring their primary school aged children also receive an education. Every Little Paths scholar is guaranteed scholarships for Years 7-10 and tertiary education where funding allows. More than that, these children are showing what is possible.
“When my dad and I visited the kids in Tanzania recently, an elderly woman expressed her gratitude for our program,” Kate explains.
“She asked us to look at the boy we had put in uniform and then look at all the many children around him that were not in uniform.
“She explained that we were helping all of the children by putting one in uniform because they now realised their dream of being educated is realistic and it gives them hope.”
Motto for life
Little Paths has adopted a motto from the Tanzanian proverb ‘Haba na Haba Hujaza kibab’, which means you achieve big things piece by piece, slowly slowly.
“It’s what we ask our recipients and their families to do. It’s what we ask their teachers and communities to do. These kids need help, but foreign aid is not the answer; they are the answer.
“The great obstacle is poverty, which is where our little bit can contribute. The rest is up to them and their people.”
This speaks to Kate’s motivation for helping.
“I do what I can because I can’t ignore the fact that I can.
“I am acutely aware that I am surrounded by the kind of people that care and want the world to be wonderful and help make it that way. It’s because I am surrounded by these kinds of people, I can make Little Paths happen.
“What I didn’t expect was how good it would feel - helping kids feels great, but being part of something bigger is the best.”
A pretty good motto for life, really.
If you’re interested in learning more, take a look at the Little Paths Australia website.