Maybe is a young girl living on a rubbish dump in South Africa. Her father scavenges for anything he can recycle to provide for his family. Her “house” is a small tin and cardboard shack; she bathes out of a bucket, wears the same donated school uniform every day, and usually goes to bed hungry.
Despite these circumstances, those who meet Maybe are immediately impressed by her resolute spirit, beautiful smile, and contagious joy. This little girl loves Jesus and always offers to pray for the other children when they are sick or emotionally distraught.
Maybe is one of 35,000 children who have experienced the transforming love of God through the program of Open Schools Worldwide (OSWW), an organization that gives educational opportunities to marginalized children.
OSWW is joining the TeachBeyond family of organizations this year. This will provide much-needed global staff and administrative offices in many countries in order to expand. With this expanded infrastructure, God is providing an increased opportunity to serve the poorest in our world through the provision of life-changing, Christ-centered education.
George Durance, president of TeachBeyond, explained, “Two years ago, our board and leadership team felt God was asking us to give focused attention in the 55 countries where we serve to those who are marginalized, ostracized and unempowered. Once we committed to providing special attention to children without access to formal education that we realized how synergistic it would be for TeachBeyond and OSWW to do this together.”
How the work began. Alan McIlhenny from Ireland and Phil Renicks from the U.S. are the men whom God gave a vision of reaching the outcast children living in the poorest conditions with no access to schools. Through his work with Tearfund, a UK Christian relief and development agency, Alan saw how lack of education was limiting what the organization could accomplish in Africa. Phil, who was International Vice-President of the Association of Christian Schools International (ACSI), was visiting a member school in South Africa when he noticed a large number of street children milling about the entrance to the school and its supporting church. When the two discovered they had a shared vision, Phil organized a “Children at Risk Task Force” in Johannesburg in 2002 assisted by Alan. The delegates from across Africa agreed there was a need for an intervention and encouraged Alan and Phil to act on their vision for reaching vulnerable children. They co-founded Open Schools Worldwide.
What OSWW does. Alan explained that the centerpiece of OSWW’s ministry is a program that meets marginalized children where they are. The program uses local Christian volunteers and a curriculum focusing on literacy, numeracy, and life choices contextualized for the unique needs of marginalized children and youth.. In 32 lessons the OSWW literacy curriculum can advance children who have never been to school to a third-grade level.
“The lessons can be given over 32 days, 32 weeks, or any amount of time, but the students will be at a third-grade level when they complete it,” Alan said. The content is written so that a 16-year-old can learn to read and not feel insulted by learning children’s stories. The material includes challenging thoughts about life that apply to all ages.
OSWW personnel train local Christian volunteers in how to use the materials, consisting of teachers’ guides and student workbooks. According to Alan, there are advantages to working with local Christians: there is a lot of interaction with the children during the lessons and a local can do that better than a western teacher, and in many of the areas where the classes are held, it is unsafe for westerners.
Children like Maybe will have the reading and number skills to survive and enter a regular school if one is available. More importantly, they can learn about a transforming relationship with Jesus.