One Stone at a Time

Alumnus helps Botswana orphans plan for better lives

By Tara Laskowski, MFA ’05

It is not a coincidence that Styn Jamu, BS Psychology ’99 and MPA ’00, and his wife, Lisa, named their nonprofit organization Stepping Stones International. Stones and rocks have been fundamental to many major moments in their lives. Now, they are looking to polish rocks into gems by turning orphaned children into educated, confident adults even in the face of tragedy.

Styn and Lisa got to know each other while sitting on rocks—and the conversation they had was the foundation of their love. In October 1994, the two met while working for Project Hope in Malawi, teaching people on tea estates about the use of insecticide-treated nets to prevent malaria.

Styn, a native of Zimbabwe, joined Project Hope after his work on other humanitarian projects had ended. Utah-native Lisa had just graduated from American University with her master’s degree and joined Project Hope to fulfill her dream of visiting Africa and attain experience for a career in development.

Though they came from very different cultures and lifestyles, the couple immediately clicked. They missed their transportation back to their site one night and ended up sitting on some rocks, talking about life, politics, books, and culture. Two years later, they were married.

Dedicated to public service and administrative work, the couple has made many moves. In the mid 1990s, they settled in Washington, D.C., long enough for Styn to earn his bachelor’s and master’s degrees at Mason.

One of their hopes has always been to help families and individuals in Africa devastated by HIV and AIDS. With Styn’s own family affected by the disease, their cause has been personal. All his siblings either have died from or are afflicted with the disease, leaving the couple responsible for their children. In 2003, they moved to Botswana, where they founded Stepping Stones.

Styn knows first hand about the plight of orphaned children. He was orphaned at age five when his father was killed in a mining accident. The Jamus currently help five orphans in their family with food, school fees, clothes, and love. Now, the couple will be assisting orphans in Botswana and other countries.

Founding Stepping Stones is very much an extension of the work they are already doing in their own home. The organization’s mission is “to empower youth to become leaders of the next generation by nurturing their mental, physical, and spiritual well-being.” The organization, which was officially registered in the United States in September 2005, will open its first center in Botswana. In the years to come, the couple hopes to expand Stepping Stones to other countries, including the United States.

Stepping Stones will rely on education and empowerment to have a positive influence on orphaned teenagers, helping them make better choices in their lives by providing after-school activities relating to life, career, and health. The program will lead the teenagers through several “stepping stones,” graduating them from “granite” to “emerald” to “diamond.” At each level, they will learn different skills and participate in various activities. The students will choose activities that interest them—from creating a radio show to planning their careers to volunteering at a day care center. They will also be able to choose activities that generate income, part of which will go back to the center and part of which they will keep so they can learn how to manage money.

“The biggest reward so far is seeing how excited the kids are about the center. They have so many ideas about going camping, playing musical instruments, and setting up a youth club, to name a few,” says Lisa. “This is a long-term commitment, and I want to make Stepping Stones International happen and have an impact.”

Anyone interested in more information, assisting in fund raising, or donating to the project should contact Lisa by e-mail at

Photo (caption below)

Styn Jamu with his wife, Lisa, and their children Alexander (in lap), Ian, and Isabella