Building Hope: Part One
Changing the world is a big task.
But it's a goal one La Crescent teacher is chasing, one American student, African student and plane ticket at a time.
La Crescent high school teacher Mary-Kate Martin has been teaching English for two years.
But sit in her class for just a few minutes and you'll quickly realize her passion to change students' lives reaches beyond the state border even beyond the U.S. border, all the way to Africa.
Martin has a foot in two worlds and as she works to make a difference here and abroad, she's building a bridge for American and African students alike.
Martin became a teacher for one reason.
"I'm in teaching because I literally want to change the world," said Martin.
But it was years before this Wisconsin native ever had her own classroom at La Crescent high school that her pursuit began.
"I first went to Swazi in 2008 on a mission trip with some other college kids," said Martin.
It was a random choice to go to Swaziland, Africa, 9,000 miles from home but it would set the course for her future.
"We went there for two months and worked at a school and an orphanage and care points and cared for the kids there and that's where I met a girl named Tanele. She was 12 years old at the time and had a terrible life. She lived with a stepmother who abused her physically and then sold her to other men," said Martin.
The stories Martin heard and the faces she saw during her trip were more than enough to capture her heart.
"Came back, finished college at UW-L, graduated and decided to go back to Swazi for a year. I wanted to go back to where the other half of my heart was," said Martin.
Martin went to teach but also to do whatever she could to help Tanele.
"When I got back, I found out she had run away from home and ran into the streets as a prostitute. At the end of nine months, I found out that she was pregnant. She did end up leaving prostitution but she lived with the father of her now child but he was abusive and the problem there was even though I tried to help her her situation was I didn't have a home to offer her," said Martin.
It was in that moment, when Martin realized her inability to save Tanele and so many like her, that a dream began to form.
"That's what started the idea behind Hosea's Heart and building a home for these girls. So Hosea's Heart is created to build a home of hope," said Martin.
The hope for life home is an old building that was given to Martin's non-profit organization Hosea's Heart and as it's renovated from the inside out one tile and paint stroke at a time, it will become a place where young women also find their chance for transformation.
As the renovation began Martin focused on a new challenge, stepping into her own American classroom for the first time at La Crescent High School and it didn't take long for her students to start hearing stories from the land of Swazi.
"She talked about it on our first day at school which was really cool," said La Crescent sophomore Allison Stoeffler, one of Martin's former students.
"On the first day she gave us a background on her life and every once in a while she would tell us stories of her trip and her experience," said La Crescent sophomore Rachel Schuster one of Martin's former students.
"I love how the kids are so eager to get involved in something. That's probably been the most encouraging part," said Martin.
Even though they were only freshmen, a group of students in Martin's class decided just hearing the stories wasn't enough.
"I kind of thought to myself, we have it really easy over here and they don't have much over there, so I thought maybe helping them out would be kind of nice," said La Crescent sophomore Breeana Burr, one of Martin's former students.
"They put together an entire fundraiser by their own," said Martin.
They called the soccer fundraiser "Kickin' up Hope" raising more than $900 for Hosea's Heart.
"It was really fun but it took a lot of time and a lot of effort," said Schuster.
Now in year two at La Crescent, Martin is continuing to share about what she's learned about the world to a new set of freshmen students and they too, are catching the vision.
"Johannes is another student in Swazi. He's collapsed twice in the past week, so I shared some stories about Johannes and in this fourth hour class, one young man raised his hand and said, 'I have a brand new soccer ball can we send it to him?' It just made my heart smile," said Martin.
It's a gift Martin will deliver along with letters from her students for the Swazi children when she returns to her home away from home.
"We're teaching skills to make our students global learners. That's the purpose and for them to connect their stories to someone their same age across the world is an eye-opening experience," said Martin.
But when she goes to Swazi, she'll have a little more on her list of things to do than simply deliver the letters.
"I'm trying to check up on the renovations. Secondly, Tanele who I've been trying to help. Lastly, I get to hand deliver pen pal letters," said Martin.
And while they may just be letters to you and I, to the children in Swazi, they are so much more.
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