Alumna Sarah Grant: From Zambia to the U.S., Defining What it Means to Be a Leader

Sarah Grant with a group of women
Sarah Grant works with a group of women in Zambia

Sarah Grant ’00 has worked in the Peace Corps in Zambia and started her own non-profit, Color Me In!, providing small loans and business training to community groups across the country. She talks about this experience, and shares some very touching lessons that she has learned.

Class Year: 2000

Campus graduated from: Woodstock

Bath, ME

Sports Played while at Hyde: Soccer, Basketball, Track

Favorite Hyde Memory:
Bonding with my Freshman year roommate with whom I thought I would never, ever be friends with

Favorite Hyde Teacher:
Sara Carlin

Where are you living today?
New Orleans

B.S. in Biology from Dickinson College

What have you been up to since leaving Hyde? 

After graduation from college I entered the Peace Corps at age 23 and was sent to Zambia in sub-Saharan Africa, a country the size of Texas. There I worked for 2 years as an environmental extension agent. Learning the local language and placed in a 3-room mud hut in a remote village to call home, I spent the next 25 months working with groups of women, community schools, farmer co-ops, and anyone with an idea about how to improve the quality of living.

There is a lot that I can say about my time living in Zambia, but I doubt that we have five hours. 🙂 I remember the humility and guilt that I felt when my neighbor knocked on my door to hand over a much-prized bag of rice as a “feel better” gift after I had faked a toothache to get out of an 8 hour meeting the day before. (I didn’t do that again!) I remember the eagerness and patience of over 100 women who had walked 2-5 miles to learn about basic business skills during a workshop I held. Everyday I still feel the basic sense of gratitude for the human community that fueled that hard work and relationships that kept everyone living in such economic poverty going.

In short I learned much more than I gave.

After finishing my time in Zambia I returned to the US, living in Washington DC, only to experience the growing feeling that there was still work for me to do in the place I had just left. I remember getting a letter one day from my 85-year old neighbor lovingly called the “Professor” by everyone in the village because he had taught English for years in a local town. He was asking me for $200 to help buy some pigs for a business start-up so he could send his orphaned grand kids to school. I must have cried for half an hour pacing the hallways of my parents home feeling guilt and sadness and desperation for how hard life is for so many amazing people no different than myself. I didn’t send the $200 – a decision that I think about often – but I did return to Zambia a few months later on waitressing savings to visit the community school that I used to work at and try to figure out how I could play a role in helping beyond my time in the Peace Corps.

A year later I was founding Color Me In!, a non-profit that would focus for the next 5 years on providing small loans and business training to community groups across the country. The people in these groups held a vision for themselves above what they were experiencing, and had the work ethic to prove it.

In my enthusiasm and new-found passion, I believed it was a certainty that we would have raised enough money in the first year to not only support our programs, but to also provide me with a salary. That didn’t happen. 🙂 Nor did it ever. As we grew the organization I learned how to organize a Board, develop program and monitoring and evaluation techniques, deal with failure, learn from failure, fund raise, navigate the legal requirements of our work, and honor in the best way possible our commitment to helping others improve their lives.

Color Me In! played a very significant role in my life for those 5 years….I jumped from job to job in the US to provide an income, while I worked nights and weekends on the organization and returned to Zambia once a year for 1-5 months. The financial pay-off has not been great, perhaps as expected, but the emotional fulfillment and knowing that I have challenged myself beyond the safety net of guided volunteering is of course well worth it. To date we have raised over $100,000 which has been invested in over 26 community groups over 5 of the 7 Provinces in Zambia. More than 35,000 trees have been planted as a side project in a county that is one of the most rapidly deforested in the world, and the number of people affected by our effort reach into the thousands.

Currently I am working with our Board on merging CMI’s work with a colleague’s non-profit which focuses on female education, and will take some time away from Director while I apply and hopefully attend business school next year. After that, who knows! But I hope to be able to use my experience and love for Zambia in some capacity to still create opportunities for development and personal growth in areas where resources are hard to come by.

How has Hyde impacted what you are doing today?

I remember a critical moment 6 years ago when I was struggling with a decision on how to make a change in the world: Do I raise a few thousand dollars to help this one school that I am tied to in my village, or should I act more broadly to start a non-profit to help unknown others who may be in the same position as the ones I knew and loved? For me, I knew deep down that working only with my school was a safe way out. And because I had spent so many years at Hyde working hard on trying to have faith in my potential and be willing to take risks, I chose to begin Color Me In.

Any advice for the undergraduates?

You’ll remember most of the things that you wish you had done. Be it an interaction with another person, a challenge at work, a missed moment of kindness, or playing it safe. I have been lucky enough to befriend people of every economic status out there and the formula seems the same for us all: from those who make $1 a day to $10,000 a day everyone is struggling through the same basic fears and hopes and questions…fulfillment and happiness seem to spring most from what you do with what you’ve got…and what you’ve got to work with will always change. So work on what you can control, and that’s your character and relationship with your conscience and your heart. I never accomplished what I originally set out to do with CMI, but learned more than I could have hoped. And made a small difference in the meantime. That to me, is a success.

The below pics are of clients that Color Me In! works with in Zambia to help them start their own small businesses. Two are of Sarah working directly with the groups.