Terry Mulligan enjoys being surrounded by his students at St. Joseph Elementary School in Libertyville, but he also finds satisfaction teaching English to orphaned children thousands of miles away.
After two years in his St. Joseph classroom, the 25-year-old will return to Stella Maris School in Moshi, Tanzania, next month to continue bringing a better education, hope and a better future to children there.
"It is truly a privilege to be the person there for the children and be their teacher, brother and for some their father," Mulligan said. "I am so blessed to be accepted into the community, to have two homes and two families."
He learned about the Mailisita Foundation after graduating with a degree in elementary education from the University of Missouri. The foundation's aim is to develop a financially self-sustaining education center to serve the needs of a growing orphan population in rural Tanzania. Many children are orphaned due to AIDS, malaria or other illnesses.
It was created by the Rev. Val Laini, who grew up in Tanzania and now serves as associate pastor at St. Joseph Church. Mulligan seized the opportunity in 2010 to teach the inaugural class of 44 children. He stayed seven months.
"It was not only a chance to provide them the newest teaching methods but also to build a school around a foundation that we love our students, we care for our students and we're there for our students every way we can be," Mulligan said.
To support the education center financially, a guesthouse was opened three months ago to attract tourists from nearby Mount Kilimanjaro, he said. While there on this trip, Mulligan also plans to act as its assistant manager to help with its initial operation.
"What's often overlooked is how you will sustain this project. It is harder to get people to donate $1,000 every single year to pay for the same thing every year," he said. "The goal is the guesthouse will pay for the school."
Mulligan said the school system in Tanzania is set up so students must take an entrance exam given in English to enter high school. The poorly funded elementary schools, which go up to seventh grade, have no or poor English education.
"When you're born into a poor Swahili-speaking family and go to public school that doesn't have English education, you will peak at seventh grade and have no further education. The only way we can help these kids is providing a means for them to succeed," he said.
Mulligan said he has seen how much those children have learned. One student, named Happy, spoke up when a visitor from Germany gave the third-graders sour candy.
"She goes, 'It is not sweet. It is very bad. I don't like this sugar.' It was amazing that this girl, who when I met her she was 6, she could say, 'My name is Happy' and that was it. They could form these sentences and show their humor at only third grade. With each lesson we teach more about English, I learn more about them," he said.
In return, Mulligan said, he has learned much from his hosts.
"Being there to be their family taught me a lot about love and the importance it plays in development of each person -- how important it is to express my love and show I care every day," he said. "That is what makes the sacrifices -- having money, building a career, having friends and family close by -- seem so much smaller because I realize I am gaining back so much. Because I opened up, my family is there too."
The staff members at the school not only teach but also are considered providers, Mulligan said. He fully grasped this role from one child named Catherine.
"I had this little girl take hold of my hand and say, 'Mr. Terry is my father.' This is so much more than I expected," he said.
It was during previous visits that Mulligan also saw how they care for him. He contracted malaria twice, losing 30 pounds in six weeks. The teachers, whom he calls African mothers, brought him fruit from their gardens. Following a Masai tribe tradition, children brought bitter leaves to calm his stomach.
"I went there because I am going to help these kids and help this people. I get sick and they help me and take care of me. I am forever indebted to the entire community," he said.
As Mulligan awaits his two-year stay in Tanzania, he also works to raise money to support his trip. He will host a fundraiser at 6 p.m. May 10 at Mickey Finn's in Libertyville. It will feature project updates, food, live music and an auction. He hopes to raise $24,000.
He also shares what he has learned about Africa with his first-graders at St. Joseph.
"It's really cool that he goes to Africa and shares what he sees with us," student Sharon Murphy said.
In his classroom, students are divided into tribes including Makinde, Chaga, Masai, Sukuma and Hehe, and children are given African names. Walls are filled with projects, from colorful masks and shields to posters that feature research on their country.
"Nigeria is known as the giant of Africa because it's really big," student Willie Gillespie said.
Mulligan added, "They have all this pride for this country that at the beginning of the year they may have only heard of or not heard of at all."
Whether at St. Joseph or in Tanzania, being surrounded by children brings a smile to Mulligan's face. "I love my job in Tanzania, and I love my job here," he said. "But what is amazing to me is they (the students) love it too. It is a testament to the work that has been done in Tanzania."
To learn more about Mulligan's experience in Tanzania, visit his blog terrytanzania.blogspot.com. For more about the Mailisita Foundation, visit www.mailisita.org