Libertyville native finds a new purpose in Africa
Libertyville native Terry Mulligan teaches at a school in Tanzania run by the nonprofit Mailisita Foundation, which was built and with the help of Libertyville’s own St. Joseph’s Parish. | Photo courtesy of Terry Mulligan
Updated: May 13, 2013 2:12AM
Terry Mulligan expected to lead the life of a typical teacher in the United States. Instead, his days are far from ordinary as he teaches and cares for orphaned children in a Tanzanian village called Mailisita. Many students there have lost their parents to the African AIDS epidemic.
The school is run by the nonprofit Mailisita Foundation and was built and with the help of Libertyville’s own St. Joseph’s Parish, whose associate pastor grew up in Tanzania. The parish continues to bring awareness and raise money for the project.
A special feature of the project is that it aims to be self-sustaining, thanks to profits from an adjoining hotel called the Stella Maris Executive Lodge.
Q: How and when did you get involved with Mailisita Foundation?
A: I first got involved as a senior in college when I was finishing my elementary education degree at the University of Missouri, but I first heard it from St. Joseph Church. One of our priests told me he thought I should teach in the new school in Africa. They would finish the school shortly after I finished college; I graduated in May 2009 and the school opened in January 2010 so the idea was always in the back of my mind.
One day after teaching (in the United States), I thought about a breakthrough with one of my at-risk fifth-graders. I finally connected with her on a deeper level and she trusted me. Then I thought about how great it would be to have that feeling in Africa, and being the person the orphans and children in Mailisita could trust and rely on. Eight months later, after lots of fundraising and lots of help from family and friends, I was in Tanzania.
Q: How did you come to the decision to live in Mailisita and what do you do other than teaching?
A: I decided to move back here during my second stint in Tanzania. After teaching first grade at St. Joseph Elementary School in Libertyville in 2010-11 I came back to Africa to teach for the summer. I saw that the school was still growing and that the whole project still needed a lot more help and guidance to be successful.
I knew that the children needed me here because they told me so. They told me I couldn’t leave them again.
I have lived here since June 2012 and will for the next couple years. At the school I help select students for our school, make improvements, as well as teach English and any other subject that needs help. Most of my time is spent teaching, but when I am not teaching I am also handling the business part of our project at the hotel. I helped train our new manager, for instance.
Q: How has this changed your life?
A: I never expected this. I expected to move into an apartment in Chicago, live with my buddies, meet a nice girl and teach. All that changed when I was 23. After six months of living in Mailisita, a young girl named Catherine told me what I was really here to do. When she was asked who her father was, she replied “Mr. Terry is my father.” I had been providing sugar and soap for her family and bought Catherine things like a pair of shoes and food on the weekends. What I realized was that I had grown to love her and all the children so much. I had a new role in life to fill. So whether I was planning on it or not, I had this beautiful child and now 250 more that rely on me.
I learned that I wanted to be there for the children that needed me most and they trusted me to be that person. So I search for the ones with the holes in their lives that I could help fill by being a loving, caring male figure in their life.
For Catherine, an orphan, that hole was in the shape of a father. I found her nine months ago, struggling, 34th of 36 in her class, 44 lbs. and unhappy. I found her a new home away from abusive caretakers, gave her her first bed at 9-years-old so she wouldn’t sleep on the dirt ground. In the last nine months of my job as “dad” she went from 34th to first in her class. I guess the biggest change in my life is that I am viewed as a father to many and a caretaker to all. I love it.
Q: What has been the most surprising thing you’ve learned?
A: Children are the same whether they are from Tanzania or America. They are silly, happy, funny and sad. They laugh, smile, play and cry. They all need the same things and want so badly to just be happy.
With these children in Africa and my children in America, I see hope. They are all beautiful and special children who will grow to shape our world and one day help their own countries. Tanzania and America alike both need help, and my role is education and empowering them with knowledge and love. If we teach them, care for them, show them love and give them what they deserve, they too will see the value in helping others. They will know that one day they will have the responsibility to help others in their own special way.
Q: People have many options for worthy causes to donate to. Why do you think they should consider Mailisita?
A: The truth is that I love this project. I care for every child and I believe in the work we are doing here. If you have an interest in helping children, I strongly recommend our foundation. All of our money goes directly to the children and we guarantee every dollar is spent here in Tanzania for their benefit.
From a financial standpoint I think people are comfortable giving to our foundation because it makes sense. We built something that will not require continued funding in the future. Our hotel already turned a profit in its first year. So we give money now, knowing that in the future we can sit back and just watch the project continue to be successful.
•Learn more about the Mailisita Foundation at www.mailisita.org and ready Terry Mulligan’s blog at www.terrytanzania.blogspot.com.