by Anna Southgate
Shortly after my mother died I met another amazing woman. Most of all Katrin made me laugh – about the absurdity of discrete tampon packaging and life in a diplomatic compound – but she also had an ambitious plan. And when I say ambitious, it was nothing short of epic in its proportions: she wanted to tackle the global education deficit.
As someone who thinks a yoga class is ambitious, I wasn’t sure she was serious at first. But she was deadly serious. She even had a plan of how it could be done. As I listened to her describe Professor Sugata Mitra’s ‘Hole in the Wall’ experiment which demonstrated how children could be auto-didactic given the right tools, and her proposed solar-powered internet hub packed with educational software, the solution seemed so simple – as all great ideas do, they say. But to prove it could work, she first needed to build a prototype…
My mum left school at sixteen. The daughter of a postal worker and a launderette assistant, job prospects weren’t exactly inspiring. She wanted adventure and high romance, she got married and had two children. It was what you did in those days. But I know she always rued her lack of education, the opportunities it would have opened up for her. It was why she always pushed my sister and me to fulfil our academic potential. And how we knew that she too would have been excited by Katrin’s ambitious plan. So, with some money she left us, my sister and I were able to support the build of the first ever hub in Nigeria.
Since then I have witnessed Hello World go from strength to strength, crossing countries and continents to provide access to an education for some of the remotest and most marginalised communities in the world. To do it, the team members have put their safety, health and mental wellness at risk, such are the challenges they face and the traumas they witness along the way. The best ideas may be simple, but their execution rarely is.
My mum gave me a card the last Christmas we were together in which she had written a quote by Seamus Heaney. It now sits on my desk and reminds me of what can be achieved with hard work and determination. I remember the journey of Hello World – from its inception to the extraordinary growth of the last two years – and know that my mother would be so proud, as I am.
…’when asked which attribute
Of character was best, replied
“Steadiness, for it is best
When a man has set his hand to tasks
To persevere. I have never heard
Fault found with that.”’