Hope in full supply

New York Kiwanian’s nonprofit sends supplies to kids in need internationally.

Story by Lydia Johnson

Mark Grashow, a longtime Kiwanis family member and retired teacher, spent 45 years helping children in Brooklyn, New York. A 2003 trip to rural schools in Zimbabwe showed him that African students needed help too. 

“They had absolutely nothing,” says Grashow, “and they were desperate for everything.”

In 2005, Grashow and his wife, Sheri Saltzberg, started the U.S.- Africa Children’s Fellowship (USACF) to provide school supplies to children in Zimbabwe, Ghana, Nigeria and South Africa. The former Key Club advisor collects donations from 35 New York schools and gives presentations to students about the challenges facing Africans who live in rural communities. No shoes, food or money for school leads to low enrollment, literacy and pass rates.

“A lot of what we do isn’t just to help kids in Africa,” says Grashow. “It’s really concerned with empowering American kids to know that they can change other people’s lives.” 

The message has hit its mark. Since 2005, students have collected enough shoes, books, toys and school supplies to fill more than 50 40-foot shipping containers. In those 15 years, donations have helped nearly half a million children in 700 African schools. 

“A lot of what we do isn’t just to help kids in Africa. It’s really concerned with empowering American kids to know that they can change other people’s lives.”

Grashow also heads the annual Students Taking Action for Relief (STAR) Project, which helps refugees. Forty-five New York schools have collected supplies for Syrian refugees living in camps in Jordan, where families face dangerous conditions without many necessities.

Each participating school collected a single item from a list of shoes, clothing, toiletries, housewares, toys and books. In all, 2,159 boxes of donations were gathered and distributed in Jordan by USACF and its partner, United Mission Relief. The STAR Project also has collected supplies for Yemen and Somalian refugees.

USACF recently launched The Bridge Project, which brings technology to African schools. The organization’s IT team created a handheld computer called the “Bridge Pi,” a Wi-Fi hotspot that stores thousands of textbooks, lessons and exams.

Eleven schools in Zimbabwe, South Africa and Ghana are piloting the program. Instructors create learning centers stocked with the Bridge Pi, a projector and tablets. Students who once had no books now have the world at their fingertips.

American sister schools paid for the US$2,500 learning centers, building relationships that foster digital education and cultural exchange. It’s a concept Kiwanis family clubs can embrace, Grashow says.

“It would not only change the kids on the other side. You’re helping your own children become better people.”

This story originally appeared in the June/July 2020 issue of Kiwanis magazine.

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