In July, alumna Jill Bastian anxiously awaited the results of a hydroponic gardening experiment she had started 10 days earlier as a visiting teacher in a seventh-grade science class at a school in Okahandja, Namibia.
The students stood up so they could see the look on their teacher’s face as he pulled seed trays out of a cabinet that had kept them warm at night. July is the middle of winter in Okahandja, where many of the 5,000-plus residents live in tiny tin houses without electricity.
“As soon as they saw the excitement on his face, the students knew something wonderful had taken place,” she recalls. Fourteen of the 15 seeds had germinated, and some were already three or four inches tall.
In an environment ruled by sand, seeds directly planted in the ground are often lost to the wind or birds. And every seed matters in this country where many people grow their own food. Bastian knew the children would have a head start on the rapidly approaching growing season by planting those healthy seedlings in the school’s outdoor garden in the following weeks.
The project was one of many small victories for Bastian, a fifth-grade teacher from Longwood, Fla., who first traveled to Namibia in 2002. She has returned almost every year with different teams to introduce programs that offer long-term benefits to the local population—from organizing micro-financing via small business loans for women to setting up student-to-student mentorship programs.
“Serving others was instilled in me by my parents at a very early age, but I was never asked to put my research questions into action before I attended Walden,” says Bastian, who earned an MS in Education (MSEd) in 2011 and was the first recipient of the Ann “Tunky” Riley Excellence in Education Scholarship. “Now, when I’m researching projects to implement in Namibia, I find myself constantly asking, ‘How can I enact this research to pay it forward?’ I take that mission with me wherever I go.”
The people of Namibia inspire Bastian to act. “What really strikes me is that they appreciate every single thing they have. They are very happy people. That is why I embraced the nation,” she says.
After returning home from her first trip, Bastian wanted to make service learning an integral part of her own classroom. She started a Kids Care Club in Florida, offering a series of after-school projects to encourage students to volunteer in the community. To date, they’ve offered assistance to the homeless and launched a program to send aid to victims of Haiti’s earthquake.
This summer she took another trip to Africa and started a Kids Care Club at the Okahandja Samaritan Network, located at a camp of more than 100,000 Namibians. “The students there sat in a circle and were on fire with ideas,” Bastian explains. “They decided to set up a bank account to send more kids to these camps, donate basic supplies, and establish a mentoring program—all for children who were worse off than themselves.”
Through her work at home in Florida and her annual trips to Namibia, Bastian hopes to effect lasting social change. “I chose Walden because I was searching for a program that would further my education and enhance my mission work in Africa,” Bastian says. “My goal is to share my knowledge and influence learning communities both at home and abroad.”
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