At first glance, she seems just about the same as everyone else. A young mum with three kids, she is softly-spoken, almost impossibly youthful-looking, and lives in a tight-knit beachside community where the summers are long and lazy, and the cars are forever sandy.
But here's the thing.
A few years ago, she and her husband left their small Australian coastal town, and relocated their family to one of the most dangerous places in the world. A region known for its political instability (due to which we cannot specify their location) this will be her family's home for the foreseeable future.
You see, she and her husband are founders of Sparrow International, a not-for-profit whose radical, grass-roots approach is transforming lives and communitiesaround the globe. Their sustainable vision is giving families in the most poverty-stricken, politically-unstable, and isolated regions in the world access to vital medical services and education.
Babiators Australia partner with Sparrow in their work to transform the lives of families around the world, and we chatted to Ally about living overseas with kids, life without good coffee, and what inspired her to step out of her comfort zone.
B: How did the Sparrow journey begin?
A: In 2012 we traveled to South Asia to meet a friend and spend some time with his family who were living and working in an isolated, rural district. Living in the village for the week we not only witnessed incredible need, but met some of the most resilient and brave people I know. I sat and listened as mothers shared dreams for their children and spoke of the many challenges and fears involved with raising children in not only a remote location, but also a conflict zone.
This area of the world was broken and filled with desperate people, mostly families trying to survive. Being a mother myself, my heart was broken for their suffering, but also angry at the injustices and the plight of the people caught in the middle of extreme poverty and conflict. We couldn’t go home and do nothing, so out of that initial trip Sparrow began.
B: What is it that is motivating you to leave the safety and comfort of your life in Australia to live and work in the Middle East?
A: My faith is my biggest motivator. Sometimes the idea of being overseas is overwhelming and a little scary, but when you spend time there and you realise that the world is predominantly full of families just trying to raise their kids, well it makes everything seem easier. We have things so good in Australia, our kids have access to health and education for free. Then you meet these families who are really struggling, whose kids can’t even go to school. When you connect with these people and hear their stories it makes it hard to walk away and not do something to help.
For the last five years we have tracked the education centers in South Asia and seen the way they are changing communities and giving children opportunities, and it’s really exciting to find a small-scale provisional way to give children access to education. When you see children learning to read and write, the first in their families to be literate, it’s an incredible feeling and I guess for me, that’s also my motivation.
B: How do your children fit into the picture?
A: Our kids are very much part of this journey.We home school and so our children are very much immersed in the work of Sparrow. They come with us to rural villages, sit in the education centres with the other children and help hand out hygiene packs when we are running health education sessions. As parents we want our kids to feel as though they are on the journey with us, that this life is an adventure and how lucky are we that we get to do this! There’s definitely challenges with raising kids this way, they miss their family and friends and have to work out different cultures and languages, but what a privilege to get to experience the world so young!
B: What are the biggest difficulties or setbacks that you have faced throughout the organisation’s history? How have you overcome them?
A: There are many difficulties when it comes to working and living overseas. We miss home, it takes so long to do simple tasks and then there’s always the lack of good coffee! But, the most difficult setback for us has been funding. When you walk through these desperate communities and see children working instead of going to school, and families with generational illiteracy and you have an education model that works and can bring change, it’s hard to face the reality that at the end of the day we can only start a new centre if we have the funding for it.
It’s a journey though, and we overcome this by continuing to share about the work we are doing and finding like-minded people that are passionate about seeing children with access to education. We have big dreams and it’s extremely likely that we will always be working to overcome this difficulty!
B: How do you foster community engagement with, and ownership of, Sparrow education centres?
A: This isn’t something that we have had to work hard on, families want their children to have access to education. We provide something that families desperately want and because of that the centres work, and the community looks after it.
B: What do you consider to be some of your greatest successes?
A: Savitri is a young girl who is growing up in rural farming village. Her village has no school or hospital and her family is extremely poor, struggling to provide even 2 meals a day. When Savitri was 6 years old, her mother died and her father became very sick. Her older siblings were required to find jobs to provide for the family and Savitri was now in charge of caring for her younger brother and sister and the house. Each day she would cook the meals, collect water, wash the clothes and care for the babies, there was no time for playing or learning. Savitir’s father was illiterate and although he knew that an education would benefit his children, he had no way of sending them to school.
A young person in Savitri’s village was passionate about the children in their village being able to access education. Through a series of events, they joined the Sparrow team and an education centre began in the village. it was open each evening and cost nothing. Savitri’s family started to attend and now 12 months later, Savitri and her older siblings can read and write, the first in their family to be literate. Not only are they being given an education but they also have access to art and sports, things that previously they had never been able to do. Savitri’s family has been embraced by a community and even though Savitri still has to care for the house and her older siblings have to work, they have hope that life can be different.
They are my greatest successes. The stories of the children that attend the centres, the amazing Sparrow teachers that love these children and work so hard to provide an education for their communities. They are the success of Sparrow.
At Babiators, we want the best for kids all around the world. With this aim in mind, $1.50 from every pair of Blue Series and Limited Edition sunglasses, and $1 from every pair of Original Babiators, sold on our website goes to support Sparrow in their work.
In honour of International Women's Day
We are doubling our usual donation for all orders placed 8-12 March 2021.