Couple throw monster of a fundraiser to build African school

October 7, 2008

By Jim Feehan

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A Newcastle couple hopes their Monster Mash raises oodles of cash to build another school in Mali.

Andrew and Jennifer Ting are sponsoring the Building with Books Monster Mash at 7 p.m. at Issaquah’s Pickering Barn. Partygoers will dance the night away to Seattle-based band, The Beatniks, who will provide cover versions of The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and Kiss.The Tings hope to raise $30,000 to construct the school. Last year, they raised $22,000 for a three-classroom schoolhouse in Mali. In 2006, they raised $23,000 to build a school in Bolivia.

“A simple fundraiser party typically raises enough money to build a school that will stand for at least 100 years, educating generations of children and empowering their villages,” Jennifer Ting said.

Jennifer and Andrew Ting at the January groundbreaking ceremony of a school in Mali. The Tings will host a fundraising party Oct. 11  at Issaquah’s Pickering Barn for construction of another school in the West African nation.  Photo contributed

Jennifer and Andrew Ting at the January groundbreaking ceremony of a school in Mali. The Tings will host a fundraising party Oct. 11 at Issaquah’s Pickering Barn for construction of another school in the West African nation. Photo contributed

Mali is a landlocked nation of 12 million people in Western Africa, bordering Algeria on the north and Niger on the east. Mali has the lowest adult literacy rates in Africa. Illiteracy contributes to higher infant mortality, higher birth rates and increased incidence of HIV. In addition to the school, funds raised by the Tings also provide an evening literacy class for adults in the village.  

Jennifer and Andrew, a surgeon at Swedish Medical Center in Seattle, traveled to Mali for a week in January. They traveled six hours by van from Bamako, the capital of Mali, to the village Dougouninkoro.  

“The village children were lining the entrance to the village singing and waving hand made paper flags,” Jennifer said. “Then, the drums started playing and the women danced. Next thing I knew, I was dancing and the whole crowd was giggling. It’s as if we invited them to our country and had them dance The Macarena.”

At the host family’s compound, the Tings found a small mud hut with a straw mattress and mosquito net. The elders said the recently issued nets had virtually eliminated malaria in the village. One year, a neighboring village lost all of its infants to malaria, Jennifer said. 

The following day, the Tings broke ground on the school. However, before breaking ground, the adults in the village needed to sign a covenant agreeing to provide manual labor. In four days, the foundation was dug and two-thirds of the bricks were made, one at a time from a single mold, Jennifer said.

A meeting with the village elders was illuminating.

“They asked us, ‘Do you have guinea worm or leprosy in your country? We have not heard of this thing you say, global warming,’” Jennifer said. “They told us it was great to finally have a member of the village who could do simple math. They can keep track of livestock and make sure the women do not get taken advantage of when they sell goods at the market.”

Families were large — the average is seven children — and women would often work in the fields with a baby tied to their back. The babies often felt feverish to the touch. Toddlers were either suffering from protein malnutrition after being weaned from their mother’s milk or had intestinal worms. The elders said they had a lot of asthma in their children, Jennifer said.

“We played a lot of Twister with the kids,” she said. “I also brought colored pencils, which they didn’t quite know what to do with, and a couple of soccer balls to replace what they had been using as a ball.”

Within three months, the school was completed and the Tings received a framed photo of the children outside the new building. Building with Books will build another set of classrooms with the village if it can document that the gender is at least 50 percent female.

Later this year, the Tings, along with their three sons — Bryan, an eighth-grader at Maywood Middle School, and twins Kevin and Kyle, fifth-graders at Newcastle Elementary School — will return to Mali for the groundbreaking of the new school and visit the first village and see the completed school. Family friends Jacqualee Story, Cyndi Malesis and Wendy Larkin, all of Newcastle, will join the Tings.

“There’s over 1 billion illiterate people on our planet,” Jennifer said. “There are a lot of schools yet to be built.”

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