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State, The (Columbia, SC)
November 10, 2002
Section: METRO/REGION
Edition: FINAL
Page: B1
Column:CLAUDIA SMITH BRINSON


HE'S MADE A CAREER OUT OF MAKING A DIFFERENCE
CLAUDIA SMITH BRINSON, Staff Writer

Tucker McCravy speaks Sinhalese, Japanese, Thai, French and Tamil. At 31, he has spent his adulthood elsewhere: Sri Lanka, India, Thailand, Japan and Benin.

On the other hand, McCravy is actually Samuel Tucker McCravy IV, a native of Columbia, a graduate of Cardinal Newman High School. He is the great-grandson of Charles O. Hearon, a crusading editor of Spartanburg's The Herald; the great-great grandson of "Pitchfork" Ben Tillman; and the great-great-great grandson of Andrew Pickens, the last two both governors of South Carolina in the 1800s.
You have to wonder: How did he get there from here?

The short answer would be the Peace Corps.

A longer answer involves serendipity, a child named Imelda, a nonprofit named Serendib and McCravy's hope you'll help finance English-immersion camps in Sri Lanka and Thailand or girls' education in Benin.

THE TURNING POINT

During his junior year at Cardinal Newman High School, McCravy traveled to Switzerland through an international exchange program, Youth for Understanding.

"That placed the travel bug in me," he says.

Upon graduation, he was one of two in his class to leave the state for college. He chose Wesleyan University in Connecticut. There, he says, "I learned a liberal philosophy that didn't get bandied about in South Carolina. That developed a desire in me to put myself in the social-service stream."

His older sister Lucy had seen the yen earlier.

"Tucker has always been aware of the plight of children in far-flung places," she says. "My mother sponsored a child, Imelda, in the Philippines, and Tucker was fascinated with that, how we could help."

McCravy joined the Peace Corps. In October 1994, he packed for Sri Lanka, an island southeast of India called Serendib by Arabians and Ceylon by the British, known for its tea plantations, a temple with a tooth of Buddha and a 19-year-old civil war that has cost 65,000 lives.

His first year, McCravy worked in a teacher-training program, helping those who didn't pass the English exam. Seven languages are spoken in Sri Lanka; English is the elite's language for government and commerce.

In an early letter home, McCravy mentioned walking to water to wash his clothes.

"There were leeches in the bath water," Lucy says. "Cobras were commonplace. I thought, 'I would be home so fast.' "

His second year, McCravy taught at St. Joachim Tamil Vidyalya, a secondary school on a rural tea estate. Schools are segregated, and this one was for the minority population of Tamils.

McCravy taught in a long, open building holding five classes.

"The big challenge was keeping order," he says. "You'd be the only teacher, so there were always four classes with nothing to do. It was a very humbling experience."

He worried about the "dissonance," age and learning expectations unmet by students still mastering the alphabet. The Peace Corps teachers felt this was a "charade of keeping up appearances. We were of a mind we should go with what the child knows and move on from there. It was a daily challenge and headache."

McCravy signed up for another year and found himself consulting with the Sabaragamuwa Provincial Department of Education.

"That was a turning point and the beginning of Serendib," he says.

MAKING CHANGES

He now had a chance to shape policy on English education. What evolved in 1996 was an English education camp for students 11 to 15, still in existence through the support of Serendib and the Sri Lankan government.

Each year, 300 children and 50 teachers attend a five-day camp, the Sabaragamuwa English Language Improvement Camp, or weekend camps at local schools.

Lest you think this was easy: At the first camp's end, McCravy and his visiting mother were held hostage until all the bills were paid. Lest you think it was only a camp: In such countries, fluency in English is the way up and out. Lest you think it's always dire and serious: McCravy and fellow Peace Corps volunteers also introduced Frisbee and Frisbee tournaments in which boys and girls played together, two firsts for Sri Lanka.

Always, the goal is to help people help themselves, McCravy says. The camp continues because the teachers continue.

"We dropped into some reservoir of human potential or energy," McCravy says. "If you can get into that, you have a perpetual-motion machine."

In 1998, McCravy left the Peace Corps. He taught in India and Japan, and then took a post in Thailand at a four-year government school similar to our technical colleges. In 2001, Thailand held its first English-language camp, financed by Serendib and Rajabhat Institute Phranakhon Si Ayutthaya.

McCravy moved on to Benin. He joined Teachers for Africa, a program of the International Foundation for Education and Self-Help, aimed at improving education in Africa. He traveled throughout the West African country providing resources, teaching and teacher training.

He and an African colleague would visit two to three rural schools a day, initiating arts-and-crafts activities, storytelling, reading and sports. But, he says, "the content was almost immaterial. What was important was the teaching approach that teachers could benefit from. In all cases what we met was a willingness to learn and a need so great we were addressing the tip of the iceberg."

BACK HOME

Family illness brought him home in March. So he went to work here on Serendib, now incorporated and a nonprofit.

Virginia Bedford, vice president of Serendib, has known McCravy since he was 4. She offers credit to his parents, Tucker and Lucy Thach McCravy.

"They brought him up to care and be creative and explore intellectually," says Bedford, also a member of the World Affairs Council and president of the 3 Rivers Festival.

Lucy, who runs an animal-rescue nonprofit, agrees. She says, "It is a genetic blessing from our parents, who encouraged us to do what we believe in and believe in what we're doing."

The senior McCravy demurs: "I can't say I saw that vast independence or wanderlust," although "I tried to make him intelligent while my wife gave him humanitarian impulses."

He says that on a visit to Sri Lanka, "Tucker took me to this house in the jungle, no electricity, no running water. He had a room with a cot all fixed up for me, and I said, 'Where are you going to sleep?'

"He went to the concrete front porch and put down a beach mat and lay down and put his hands on his chest and closed his eyes. Anybody who can do that has got the world by the tail."

The proud father also notes that a doctor lecturing recently on his service in Tanzania said the best gift to emerging countries is education for women:

"And that's exactly what Tucker is doing."

McCravy is raising money for his English camps and for scholarships for Benin schoolgirls. In Benin, $30 pays for a year's tuition, books and a khaki uniform. In Sri Lanka, $3,000 pays for the annual English camps, covering room, board, materials and a per diem for the volunteer teachers.

Norma Jackson, director of international programs at Benedict College, hopes the Benin effort touches a chord.

"It's extremely important that such a program take off because when you educate a man, you educate a man, but when you educate a woman you educate a whole village.

"Education is necessary for development in Africa."

McCravy notes that a little buys a lot:

"We could never do as much here because of economies of scale. A thousand dollars in South Carolina wouldn't go far. In Africa, you make a difference."

And he believes he knows how.

"People are indoctrinated to believe more is more," says McCravy. "You don't need $10 million to make a difference. And it's more responsible, efficacious, meaningful and productive to take smaller, judicious, discreet sums of money and apply them in places where they're most needed."

McCravy has relied on his own money and that of family and friends for Serendib. Here, he lives with his parents, operates from his father's office, doesn't "do anything but work on Serendib." He dreams of funds for a salary for himself and a grants writer so Serendib can grow.

"I believe in him and his very sincere desire to do good," Bedford says.

Serendib's focus will stay international, making it one of about two dozen such nonprofits in the state.

Says McCravy: "I make no distinctions, place no value judgment on the needs of children in South Carolina or Sri Lanka. As brothers and sisters in a global sense, we are obligated to help."

IF YOU GO

* What: Benefit for Serendib, a nonprofit that educates children in Sri Lanka, Thailand and Benin

n When: 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. Thursday

* Where: 2926 Clark St. in Columbia, off River Drive

* Guest of honor: Olga Mama-Yari Ogoussan of Benin

* Donations: $25 sends a child to English-language camp; $75 sponsors an orphan for a year; $150 pays for a university student's semester.

* New donors: In Benin, 75 percent of young women 15 to 24 years old are illiterate. Donors of $100 to the girls' scholarship program will receive a poster, donors of $250 will receive a signed, limited-edition print by artist Tom Feelings.

* For more information: Write Serendib at P.O. Box 11081, Columbia, SC 29211, or e-mail at www.serendib.us, or call (803) 237-4411, weekdays, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.


Illustration:PHOTOS: COLOR AND BW

1. Now at home, Tucker McCravy is raising funds for Serendib. MEGAN MORR/THE STATE

2. Tucker McCravy teaches in Benin. SPECIAL TO THE STATE


Copyright (c) 2002 The State