I first met up with Zack in August 2015 at a diner in a small coastal Maine town. I liked that we skipped over small talk and dove into travel, turmoil in the Middle East and the experiences that spurred him to work with refugees and the displaced in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq. In between bites of scrambled eggs and toast, Zack described the model for TentED. I was impressed. Finding able partners to make projects happen instead of taking on the daunting tasks of building schools and designing programs and curriculums made sense. Having worked with other nonprofits that promote education, I leapt ahead to ways TentED could expand, raise funds, replicate, grow.
Zack listened patiently to my ideas and then said something like: TentED is different. I think we need to think small, focus on rapid impact and make every effort to do what we do well. If we try to expand too quickly, we risk losing sight of the mission and compromising quality. The need to get refugee children back into school programs is urgent. We have to make absolutely sure that funds are delivered where they will make the most difference and quickly. Smart.
Zack, with co-founders Scott and Pat and a core group of supporters have shaped the organization with care. They realized early on that they did not have the bandwidth to build schools or design academic programs. What they felt confident they could do is to identify potential partner organizations doing effective work on the ground in the region and provide funds and share ideas and expertise to optimize education projects and expand capacity so that more displaced children could benefit.
Today, we are adding an infographic to the TentED web site to illustrate more precisely “How We Work.” For those curious about how a small group of volunteers is able to deliver aid for education on the ground in a conflict region, we hope this visual makes very clear what we do and what we do not do.
Zack spends a good deal of time on the ground observing the aid landscape and visiting with existing and potential partners to understand how they operate amid countless challenges. In a region where millions are displaced and trying to find footing in new communities, “school” can have unique forms. Sometimes setting up classroom space in the shelter of an outdoor pavilion is the best or only option. Often, programs have resources to provide education only on a revolving basis in “child-friendly spaces” so that students cycle in for a few hours during a day or even a week. Certainly not ideal, but, as Zack has reported, this still provides a hopeful start and a signal to young people in the area that a more complete return to school and some kind of new normal may happen after all.
Please consider donating to TentED, as I did, to support efforts to make education happen for children in dire need of caring, engagement and purpose.