Julie Caron always tried to take advantage of educational opportunities available to her in a wealthy, first-world country like Canada. Now she’s paying it forward by providing those same opportunities for vulnerable children in the heart of east Africa.
“I value my education so much,” said Caron, a two-time UWindsor graduate (BMus(H) ‘07, BSc(H) ‘09), who is now chair of the Tanzanian chapter of the Canadian World Education Foundation. “In Tanzania it just seems there are so many obstacles. There’s so much educational infrastructure in Canada and that just doesn’t exist there. It just didn’t seem fair.”
Now a medical student at the University of Toronto, Caron first travelled to Tanzania several years ago with a non-profit organization that provides volunteer services to communities abroad, and she was hooked.
“I love Tanzania,” said Caron, who earned a master’s degree in medical genetics from the University of Glasgow after graduating from UWindsor. “As soon as I arrived, there was just something about it.”
On that first trip, Caron befriended a local woman named Mary Massawe who was providing foster care for several orphaned children and was dedicated to improving their lives through education. She passed away on Caron’s birthday in 2009, and after her death, she was contacted by Massawe’s brother Timothy who wanted to continue her work.
Caron approached Om Chandna, professor emeritus in UWindsor’s math department and a colleague of her father Rick Caron. Dr. Chandna founded CWEF, whose mission is to provide education for vulnerable children who otherwise wouldn’t be able to attend school. Most of its work was focused in India, and Caron spoke to him about establishing a Tanzanian chapter under her direction.
“He was really excited about that,” she recalled. “There are so many kids there whose parents have passed away from HIV/AIDS.”
In just two short years, Caron established a seven-member executive in Canada, while Timothy Massawe established the Saidia Agriculture and Social Care Organization, an NGO based in the village of Boma Ng’ombe, to work with CWEF Tanzania. SASCO consists of an eight-member board of directors headed by Massawe. Together CWEF Tanzania and SASCO sponsor 18 orphaned children across Tanzania. Sponsors receive letters from the children, as well as copies of their report cards so they can monitor their academic achievements.
“Most of the kids in our program are so appreciative and they work so hard,” said Caron. “They’re succeeding to the best of their ability. They gain a lot of the intangibles that come with education like self-esteem and confidence.”
Caron has committed to going to Tanzania at least once a year. Along with SASCO, they’ve established income-generating projects like a taxi program and a farming project on 10 acres, with all the produce going to the families. Her brother Matthew, who recently earned a law degree here, is also involved with the organization, and she just returned from a month-long trip to Tanzania with her father.
“It’s become a bit of a family affair,” said Caron, who hopes at some point she can apply her medical education to improving the health of people in Boma Ng’ombe.
Back at home, most of her work time with the organization is spent on raising funds and awareness. She said they’ve received a great deal of help from Rotary, of which her father is a former president of a local chapter, and from the UWindsor community.
“We get a lot of support from the university and we’re definitely very thankful for that,” she said.