Lakeland honors Kohler women for Malawi efforts
Lakeland University has honored five young women from Kohler, Wis., with the 2020 Humanitarian Award. The young women created Girls Reaching Out (GRO.), a non-profit organization that built life-changing water wells in Malawi, Africa. The honorees are:
GRO. was formed in 2013 by six 12-year-old girls from Kohler (one of the girls later moved away) who became aware of the water crisis through a meeting with graduate students from Malawi studying at Lakeland. Since that meeting, the organization has raised more than $85,000 to build 13 borehole wells across Malawi.
The wells provide clean, accessible water to schools and their surrounding villages, allowing schools to expand, giving girls the opportunity to receive an education and positively impacting the health and nutrition of thousands of people.
“Every day, we are fortunate enough to brush our teeth, clean clothes, wash dishes, cook meals, keep ourselves healthy and attend school,” Senti said. “The thread that connects all of these seemingly mundane activities is the very thing which encompasses the most important issue of this generation: water. Growing up in the United States, convenient access to this life source becomes normalized. However, as of 2018, 2.1 billion people don’t have access to clean water.”
Madigan said GRO. created and carried out its vision thanks to Lakeland’s continuous support and partnership. The group is grateful to Lakeland Professor Emeritus Jeff Elzinga and Dean Joshua Kutney for their guidance throughout the project.
Lakeland’s connection to Malawi dates back to 1999 when Elzinga, who had served in the Foreign Service through the U.S. State Department between tenures as a Lakeland faculty member, led the creation of Lakeland’s innovative Malawi Teacher Education Program. Dozens of students from Malawi came to Lakeland to earn a bachelor’s or master’s degree, then returned to their homeland to make a difference in that country. More than 300,000 children in Malawi have benefitted from the program that Elzinga started.
Edgerle said hearing about the problems caused by unsafe, inaccessible water and discussing it with Malawians who experienced it firsthand sparked a realization that the water crisis had to be addressed.
Bullard said the group was so moved, they decided to found GRO., without any volunteer, fundraising or real-world experience. “It was a dream we had no idea would expand to so many people, and that continued to motivate us years into the future,” Bullard said. “We began on a journey to change the lives of others – and our lives were changed along the way.”
GRO. continues bringing safe, clean water to schools and villages, hoping to do its part in lessening the impact of the water crisis on global health and education. Although the original members will be heading their separate ways to college this fall, the organization is looking to a new generation of 12-year-old girls who will take over in the coming year: GRO. 2026.
This past year, GRO. has been mentoring these girls, helping them learn the skills to run a non-profit and find volunteer service they are passionate about. Additionally, the GRO. girls will continue to organize a website detailing ideas and tips on how to effectively run a non-profit and serve others in a team setting.
“It will allow us to explain what we’ve learned through experience and hopefully inspire others around the world to begin service projects of their own,” Schipper said. “GRO.’s purpose to positively impact others will live on years into the future.”
Elzinga said the efforts of these young women are amazing and continue a long tradition of humanitarian work in Malawi by people from Sheboygan County. He noted that through the efforts and good will of many individuals over the years, Lakeland has helped to build more than a dozen school blocks and libraries, collected and sent 60 tons of donated textbooks and school supplies to Malawi and constructed an aquaponics farm.
“The original GRO. girls did amazing things, as well, and have now provided inspiration to a new generation of young leaders from the community,” Elzinga said. “I can’t wait to see what they do.”