Allison Hoving-Baraza, center, walks with Children of Africa Hope Mission’s school director, who is Hoving-Baraza’s sister-in-law. Courtesy Allison Hoving-Baraza
A married couple launched a nonprofit in Holland dedicated to expanding students’ cultural and global awareness.
Launched by Allison Hoving Baraza and Gerald Baraza, Empowering Youth Global Connection seeks to bring a global perspective to underprivileged children in Michigan, as well as support children at the Children of Africa Hope Mission School in Kenya.
Locally, the nonprofit works with students through the Boys & Girls Club of Holland.
When beginning the nonprofit, they took an assessment to learn what cultures were represented at the club. With that information, EYGC brought in people who represent different cultures to speak with the children, Hoving Baraza said.
The classes cover cultures from all around the world, and certain cultures were added based on what the children want to learn. In each of the classes, students learn a respectful greeting for the culture studied and have a snack native to that region.
The program is starting with younger kids and will expand from there.
Hoving Baraza was inspired to launch the nonprofit after learning of troubles her children were having in school.
She is a white Traverse City native, but her Kenya-native husband is black, and their children are biracial. Even at a young age, she said the children heard racist comments from other students that caused them to segregate themselves.
“My heart just broke for them. At such a young age, we're already seeing influences of adults and what their stereotypes are,” Hoving Baraza said. “This is not something that we're born with. This is something that we're told by adults that we look up to.”
To combat the ideas that fuel these issues, Hoving Baraza thought it was important to expose the children to other ways of life.
“Let's go around and let's learn about all the different cultures that make up our own community, and let’s celebrate them,” she said. “We need to celebrate and embrace each other and learn and not be ignorant.”
Hoving Baraza, who is well-traveled herself, wants to combat the common idea that the U.S. is a “melting pot” where everyone becomes the same.
“No. You throw in all these different ingredients so that each brings a full flavor and spice and they complement each other,” Hoving Baraza said.
EYGC manages a few other programs, as well.
Students from a couple of organizations in Michigan and at the Kenya school send each other letters through a pen-pal program. Students in both countries also learn life skills, gardening and making healthy food choices. Starting this year, a local dentist will be visiting the Kenyan students to teach them about dental care.
The director of the Kenyan school is Gerald Baraza’s sister, Hoving Baraza’s sister-in-law. Hearing stories about troubles in school life in Kenya, Hoving Baraza knew she wanted to help.
“In Kenya, there are two ways of improving your situation in life, no matter who you're born to or where you're born: either through money or through education,” Hoving Baraza said.
Students are required to pay for school in Kenya, however, and many of the schools are dealing with poor conditions.
“It's a thousand times more intense than what someone can imagine in their head,” she said.
Hoving Baraza is working to raise funds through EYGC to help the Children of Africa school afford a new, sanitary building and property. EYGC has donated some funds to provide food for teachers and the school itself.
Hoving Baraza said she hopes to expand EYGC and is working with local schools to bring its programs to classrooms. She is open to expanding the nonprofit into Grand Rapids and anywhere else there is interest.