October 23, 2013 - 11:24pm
BY BRIE WINNEGA
Geraldine and Willard “Bill” Tayler met as students at the University in 1958 and currently reside in California, though they still manage to make it to every home football game. They will have been married for 54 years this December and have also been partners in a project to raise funds for the construction of public schools in Zambia. These schools will provide an education to orphans and other at-risk children.
Tell me about your work in Zambia.
Bill: What happens over there is that the people we’re dealing with as the Church of Central Africa Presbyterian and they run schools — they’re community schools, they’re not church schools — for anybody who can join. And they have these schools in their sanctuaries, which are small and dark and they’ve got one room. They’ve got all the grades in the one room, and there’s not room for many kids. And, so, when we build the schools, it’s a real building. And what happened was, when we went there the first time, there were 97 kids attending this school in the sanctuary. And now in that school there are about 320 kids. So, I used to always say to people: The goal of the project is to build schools. But that’s not really the goal. The goal of the project is to provide educational opportunities to more kids.
Gerry: And the way to do that is to give them a building of their own. Life expectancy in Zambia right now is only 38. Lots of funerals in those churches — every time there is one, school’s canceled. It’s something we don’t think about, but there it is. In there, they have a building, and it’s not canceled. They’ve got desks; they’ve got blackboards — they’ve got what they need to learn. And that’s the critical thing, so that’s kind of what we’re doing.
Did you participate in any non-profits or studies abroad while you were students here?
Gerry: No. But I think that, from my perspective, what Michigan gave to me — and I have talked to some of the alumni about that — they gave me a broad perspective because of the international community that’s around. And they taught me how to stand on my own two feet and to speak my opinion, and I feel very strongly about that because I don’t think I had that when I came.
Do you have any advice for current students?
Gerry: I guess my advice to them would be to take advantage and learn what you can and be a part of a global community. Our world is shrinking, and we cannot put our head in the sand and just pull into our own little secure spot. We need to be part of a global community, and I think from the sound of it that’s sort of where Mary Sue Coleman has put her emphasis recently on her exchange and global experience things. And I think it really is where we need to be, and I think the university really does a great job of that.
Bill: And I think also, a lot of students come here — and they come here to be students and to graduate — but I would say don’t ever underestimate the influence or impact that being part of this community can have on your future, because this is a unique environment. I think as you go on in your life you’ll realize that the connection here is very important.