Every summer and every other winter, Stephen Henley visits his mother’s side of the family in Howick, South Africa. When the time came for the 17-year-old Life Scout to choose an Eagle Scout project, he decided to help out a community he was familiar with, which happened not to be his hometown of Knoxville, Tennessee. Just south of Howick sits the village of Mafakathini.
“I visited that village a lot, so I know the struggle over there,” Henley says.
The teachers who taught at a dilapidated schoolhouse for children with disabilities there were struggling so much that when they heard Henley wanted to do a service project, they walked 10 miles to see him and ask that he consider helping them.
‘Dirt and concrete’
The schoolhouse, which could accommodate only a fraction of the children with disabilities in the village of 5,000, stood in startling disrepair. It had no running water, no kitchen, paint was peeling off the walls, a single exposed lightbulb served as the building’s only illumination. Children in wheelchairs had a hard time navigating the grounds to reach the outhouse toilet; teachers usually ended up carrying the kids to the toilet, which was 100 feet away. The only toy for the children — ages 3 through 9 — was an old teething toy.
“It was mainly dirt and concrete,” Henley says of the schoolhouse. “It was a lot to take in.”
But, Henley was up for the task. He organized a spaghetti dinner fundraiser for the project and collected toys, blankets, backpacks and school supplies in Tennessee. He recruited volunteers, including Scouts from a troop in Howick, to help with the labor. Over the course of two weeks, they repainted the walls; replaced broken windows; installed an indoor bathroom and kitchen; repaired the roof, floors and outdoor sidewalk; put in insulation and new lighting, and set up a swing set and garden.
When they were finished, Henley hosted a ribbon cutting for the refurbished schoolhouse, which can now accommodate more than twice as many students as it could before the project.
“It’s hard to put into words,” Henley says. “I saw the kids — it made it all worth it. I got overwhelmed by it. We were all tearing up.”
Eagle Projects Around the World
South Africa has been a home away from home for Henley. He has been visiting the country with this family ever since he was 2 years old.
While most Scouts choose an Eagle Scout project close to home, they can certainly do one anywhere in the world. Section 188.8.131.52 of the Guide to Advancement states Scouts can expand their oath “to help other people” to the “community of the world.” Check out more international Eagle Scout projects at Boys’ Life Eagle Scout Project Showcase.