360° of Education

Maureen Mungai helps children and families flourish in a small African community.

April 16, 2010  | 2 min read

360° of Education - Pepperdine MagazineWhile living and working in the small but vibrant African town of Mokhotlong, Lesotho, Maureen Mungai (MPP ’07) has come to learn that the words “family” and “community” can be interchangeable.

In the tiny country surrounded on all sides by South Africa, Mokhotlong residents come together to help other families in need as if they were their own. And for the last four years Mungai has been using her role as an educator and school administrator to help eager students learn how they can use their knowledge to benefit these interconnected lives.

When she first arrived in Mokhotlong, Mungai discovered just how difficult it can be for some families there to thrive. Women often struggle as unemployed, single mothers and “because of the high prevalence of HIV/AIDS, most children tend to live in child-headed households or with their extended families,” she notes. Mungai quickly set to work attending to the needs of these youngsters in partnership with the worldwide, nonprofit Full-Circle Learning (FCL) organization, which promotes education of the heart as well as the mind.

“Children in Mokhotlong are eager to learn and will walk for miles to come to school,” Mungai says. “Most do not have much but are vibrant, happy, and determined. They are continuously challenged to explore various ways they can be of service to their own communities.”

Last year when Lesotho experienced its worst drought in three decades, she saw it as an opportunity for the young children in her preschool to learn about the impact of drought while putting their education into practice. “The students looked at the character trait of farsightedness and learned the connection that exists between hunger and drought, and in an effort to combat drought—hence, hunger—decided to plant trees as their service project,” she says.

Throughout her efforts Mungai emphasizes the importance of implementing sustainable change. “I got a grant from Shared Health and, in partnership with the local NGO GROW, the parents began a community garden,” she describes. “Over the past three years, the community garden participants have used the produce to feed their families and as a source of income. They continue to work together and hope to start a seed nursery in the near future.”

In the four years since she first arrived in Mokhotlong, Mungai has started an FCL preschool, hired and trained local youth facilitators, managed a construction project for a local NGO, and helped schools to integrate the FCL model of education. She also teaches an adult literacy class three times a week.

She approaches education as more than an exercise in training children to become economically viable adults; she encourages strength of character. “All learning springs from deliberate application of a habit of heart or character trait, and ends with service to the community,” she says.