"Oh, the Places You'll Go!" - Dr. Seuss

Do you remember when you first realized that the world was much, much larger than your home, your neighborhood, or your city? Most likely it took a while, as over time you made new friends and saw new places. With each new experience, your world began to expand.

For SIL LEAD Director of Community-Based Programs Clare O’Leary, that process was accelerated by circumstance. Clare grew up in a particularly diverse neighborhood of San Francisco. Her father worked in international business and regularly brought foreign business contacts to their bustling home. With six siblings and various international students living in her home as well, Clare had ample opportunities to interact with an expanded world.

After finishing her undergraduate degree in only three years, Clare did a year of study in Japan, and then traveled around Asia for three months. This was soon after the Vietnam War ended and the world was changing fast. Upon returning, Clare moved into an African American neighborhood in Philadelphia. As part of a refugee resettlement plan, many Vietnamese, Cambodian, and Laotian refugees were also moving into the area. Clare, with her passion for Asian culture, was primed to volunteer and soon began providing informal ESL (English as a Second Language) tutoring to her refugee neighbors.

She then moved to Washington, D.C. for a Masters in Linguistics and ESL. There she heard about opportunities to apply what she was learning with SIL International.

As she learned, her world expanded even more.

Clare was offered a teaching fellowship as part of her PhD studies in Sociolinguistics, and was soon enjoying teaching linguistics to diverse classrooms of undergraduate and graduate students. Upon completion of her doctorate, she began working with SIL International and traveled to northern Pakistan to conduct language surveys in mountainous areas.

Clare with a minority language family from a remote mountainous region where she was doing sociolinguistic research in 1990

Clare with a minority language family from a remote mountainous region where she was doing sociolinguistic research in 1990

Clare had a passion for the outdoors and spent her vacation time hiking and backpacking—a practice she continued when her work with SIL took her to Nepal and India.

There she coordinated and lead research on some of the languages of India, Nepal, and Bangladesh, and found opportunities to offer formal and informal training to Asian colleagues.  Eventually, Clare became the director of SIL’s work in South Asia, overseeing a multinational team of around one hundred and forty people.

And her world kept expanding.

Clare was asked to take on global responsibilities as the Associate Executive Director for SIL International. Her job was to oversee, manage, and support a multinational team of ten Area Directors as they coordinated and lead language-based development work in Africa, Asia, Eurasia, the Pacific, and the Americas. During this time, Clare also helped to create SIL LEAD.

Sometimes the benefit of a really broad perspective is that it allows us to see the need to focus our energies. So this past May, Clare stepped down from the board of SIL LEAD to take her current staff position as Director of Community-Based Programs.

From its inception, SIL LEAD has had a vision to support grassroots efforts lead by community-based organizations. As this is a new model of work for SIL LEAD, Clare has taken an exploratory role, looking for ways to help smaller organizations become more robust and give their communities a more powerful voice in their own development.

One organization that Clare has already begun to help is the Literacy and Development through Partnership (LDP) in Ghana. LDP staff and volunteers focus on early childhood literacy development in over fifty schools in some of the poorest regions of northern Ghana, improving the lives of more than thirteen hundred children.

LDP kids.jpg

LDP initially contacted SIL LEAD because they had a few interested donors in the United States, and wanted to know if SIL LEAD could help by processing charitable gifts for projects that fit within its mission and vision. As Clare worked with LDP to evaluate the feasibility of this sort of partnership, she and the LDP program manager began exploring additional ways to strengthen LDP’s work—for example, by developing locally authored literacy and teacher-training materials and providing training for the Bloom book-making software.

When you’ve had Clare’s opportunities to work internationally, you inevitably encounter situations where larger aid programs overlook small-scale, grass-roots efforts to provide better opportunities in local communities. But with her work alongside organizations like LDP, Clare is helping to give these small-scale efforts a voice.

Join Clare by Donating HERE and applying your gift to LDP in Ghana