Shannon McNamara: SHARE-ing Education in Tanzania

By day, she’s a student at Rice University. By night, she’s a world-changing superhero. But no matter what she does, Shannon McNamara, founder of SHannon’s After School Reading Exchange (SHARE), does it in style. In 2008, she founded this program at just 15 years old to help girls in Tanzania learn to read. Now, five years later, she’s brought 33,000 books over and supports girls’ education through the SHARE Scholars Program. Her international program has been recognized by Forbes, Michelle Obama, the Wall Street Journal, and Teen Vogue, just to name a few. Here today we have this amazing young wonderwoman with us to answer some questions about this years’ trip to Tanzania.

KR: You’re heading to Tanzania for the fifth time in the next couple of weeks. What plans do you have for this year’s trip? Any new installments?

SM: We’re gonna be focusing on the Share Scholars Program, and the new program that we have called Tech Tanzania. The scholarship program is pretty straightforward and Tech Tanzania will [involve] us trying to get electricity and internet access to the girls at the schools.

KR: Tell me a little bit more about the Tech Tanzania program.

SM: This program is going to be new this year. There’s a computer lab at the Hekima all-girls school, but they’re all really old. We’re trying to find a way to get internet access to the students so we can do things like Skype them to stay in contact, or so they can use resources like Khan Academy so they can have more of an international education.

KR: You mentioned that your best friend, Emily, will be going on the trip with you this summer. What benefits do you think will come out of bringing others to Tanzania?

SM: It will be great because bringing Emily, and eventually other people, will give them the same experience that I had the first time I went. I got so inspired about the issue from seeing things that you only read about in magazines, but never get to see in real life.

KR: You mentioned that you aren’t taking book donations anymore. What plans do you have to replace bringing books over?

SM: We got ten ebooks from Nate Berkus that we installed for the school program. We’re also bringing a Kindle that was donated. You can have thousands of books on this tiny machine, it just makes shipping so much easier and keeps costs down.

KR: Now that SHARE is an official organization at Rice, what plans do you have to bring SHARE initiatives to the students?

SM: There are definitely many long-term goals that would be fantastic, like eventually having students go there, but that will seems really difficult for now. But if we were able to do something like raising $1,000 a year, we would be able to expand our SHARE Scholars Program that way. With that money we could send a girl to school with clothes, food, everything. It would be really cool if we could, for example, put one girl in school for four years; we’d set a goal and then meet it.

KR: What are your long term goals with SHARE?

SM: In about ten years, it will be sunstainable. Hopefully the girls that graduate this year will become teachers in their village, and they’ll be able to teach the next generation so that we can start a kind of cycle that way. That would be really cool.

KR: What was it like getting interviewed by Forbes?

SM: It was really shocking. When I got the first email I thought “Is this real? What?!”

KR: What’s your spirit animal?

SM: An elephant!!!

KR: That’s interesting. Why? 

SM: I don’t know, I just love them so much!

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