Working on the other side of the world

Like many college graduates, 23-year-old Kevin Schmidt took a trip after he completed his studies at UCLA this summer. But Schmidt, a 2007 La Cañada High School graduate, wasn’t on vacation. He was working to improve education and HIV/AIDS prevention in Africa.

Schmidt is a part of the non-profit organization OneHeartSource, or OHS, for which he first volunteered three years ago during the summer after his sophomore year at UCLA. Schmidt so took to the experience that he’s been twice more, and now is working for the organization.

OHS, a nondenominational organization seeking lasting social change, was started in 2008 by UCLA graduate Hori Moroaica. Its first project was constructing the OHS Home Center, a shelter for 20 orphaned or abandoned children in Arusha, Tanzania. It has since expanded with education-focused programs, working with schools and other non-profits to improve classrooms and curriculum in Tanzania and Zanzibar.

After working in Tanzania and Zanzibar during his first two summers with OHS, this summer Schmidt was in Cape Town, South Africa with OHS founder Moroaica to help start a third branch of the organization.

Schmidt said he relished getting to be independent and taking charge of what he was doing so soon after graduating from college.

“It’s not like an internship where I’m getting people coffee,” said Schmidt. “It’s a chance to actually put to use these skills I’ve been learning over the past years and years and years.”

Schmidt said that he is motivated by his own good fortune at having grown up in La Cañada to want to give back.

“I do recognize how lucky I was to grow up here,” said Schmidt. “Having a quality education and being able to pursue a quality education at the university level was definitely something that, if I happened to have been born on the other side of the world, maybe I wouldn’t have had.”

That desire to help give others a chance to receive the same educational opportunities he had here made Schmidt a good fit with OHS.

“We really believe there are so many problems facing these countries, and that they’re all so interconnected, but at the root of a lot of these problems is education,” said Schmidt.

In fact, Schmidt said, in the long term, he hopes to obtain his master’s degree in Education and to continue working in Africa.

“I’m kind of hoping to eventually open a school, and then hopefully from there, a number of schools in countries throughout Africa,” said Schmidt. “It’s a little bit up in the air, it’s also kind of contingent on funding.”

Schmidt said that funding for OHS comes from grants, private donations and the funds raised by volunteers themselves. Volunteers raise from $2500-$3000, depending on whether they are pursuing a four-week or six-week program.

OHS has had 365 volunteers over the last three years, mostly from West Coast colleges, which is why Schmidt will leaving L.A. in a month to recruit volunteers from East Coast universities before returning to Cape Town in April.

While this is a lot of work, Schmidt said it’s been more than rewarding to see the progress OHS has made.

“I feel like there’s been incremental victories, whether that comes at the end of the day when you’re reviewing your lesson with the class and they’re just really on it,” said Schmidt. “Or on a broader scale, like being able to see the development of the school … seeing a kid who maybe was struggling and really is starting to pick up a little bit and actually like school.”

For all of these accomplishments abroad, however, that doesn’t mean Schmidt’s parents wouldn’t mind seeing him at back in La Cañada a bit more often.

“They’re proud of me and happy for what I’m doing, and happy I like what I’m doing,” said Schmidt. “But I think they do still want me home.”

Copyright © 2019, La Cañada Valley Sun
EDITION: California | U.S. & World