In September of 2003, we (Sheri Saltzberg and Mark Grashow) had an opportunity to visit a number of schools and orphanages in Southern Africa. There we met hundreds of children eager to learn and resolute in the belief that education held the key to their future. At every turn we found remarkable and committed teachers, eager to do anything and everything in their power to provide a more meaningful education to their students. Long meetings were held with principals, teachers, parents, and local leaders to provide a greater insight into the needs of local communities and schools. In all our discussions there was always a sense of inspiration, hope and vision for the future of the children of Southern Africa. Parents and educators stood ready to build their nation’s future through their children. They can do it, one step and one brick at a time. But they cannot do it alone. They need our help.
The obstacles are huge. We visited schools that had six pens for six hundred students and met children who slept on concrete floors when it was too late or too far to travel home. We found school libraries with no books and children with HIV disease who received no medication. In one school, 700 students went with no breakfast or lunch every school day. In another, eight teachers shared a small outdoor toilet and cooked their meals under a dilapidated lean-to.
There were science labs with no chemicals or test tubes. We watched kids playing soccer after school using a paper ball wrapped in tape because the school did not possess a single piece of sports equipment. With each school and orphanage we visited, one thing became crystal clear: By rallying American friends and institutions, we could play a significant role in expanding and enhancing the learning environment. We came home with a new mission. The USACF, a not-for-profit organization, was founded.
Recognizing the needs of these schools and having the capacity to raise money and amass materials is only a beginning. What is crucial to the success of any such undertaking is having locally established trusted agencies organize and oversee this comprehensive effort. We found one such a group in Zimbabwe called the Organization of Rural Associations for Progress, (ORAP).
ORAP was founded in 1980 in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe. ORAP is a grassroots organization dedicated to helping local residents and communities develop small businesses, viable agricultural, and comprehensive educational systems. USACF and ORAP have been partners now for ten years. We have accomplished some amazing things.
Working with ORAP, school leaders and elected officials, we formulated a plan to link schools in New York with their African counterparts. The partnerships have three components:
- The students of each school share histories, personal as well as historical, through books, letters, photos, and e-mails. Students attempt to learn as much as possible about each other’s culture and seek ways to link their worlds together.
- Ever year, four 40-foot containers loaded with 40,000 lbs of requested materials are shipped to Tanzania, South Africa and Zimbabwe. Shipments include tens of thousands of textbooks, children’s books, schools supplies, toys, games, toiletries, art supplies, sports equipment, medical supplies, maps, sewing machines, bicycles, blackboards, seeds, and tools. Meeting specific needs of individual schools is a priority. Local trucks are used to transport donations from the containers to local schools.
- Funds are raised to pay for the shipment of goods and the purchase of specifically requested materials such as brick molds and sewing machines, but also for school uniforms and individual scholarships. USACF looks forward to the day when all students will have at their disposal the books and materials they need for a quality education. It is our hope that one day a child’s future will be limited only by the size of his or her dreams.