Aspen fundraiser set Monday for U.S.-Africa Children’s Fellowship
Mark Grashow wants you to reconsider the next time you throw away a used book.
Since 2003, he and his wife, Sheri Saltzberg, in partnership with the Organization of Rural Associations for Progress, have run U.S.-Africa Children’s Fellowship. Grashow’s nonprofit supports education primarily in the African countries of Ghana, Tanzania and Zimbabwe.
Grashow, who taught mathematics at Abraham Lincoln High School in Brooklyn for 34 years until his retirement in 2001, said it irked him to no end when he would see scholastic books residing in the school dumpster. In 2003, when he visited Africa for a wedding, Grashow and his wife also made a stop in Zimbabwe and took in some of the country’s rural schools.
“They had nothing,” Grashow said Wednesday in a telephone interview from his Brooklyn residence. “No library books or schools supplies, and we were throwing everything away. I would look in the dumpster and there would be 300 math books in perfect shape. They had changed the syllabus and they were throwing these books away.”
Lincoln High School’s discarded books, Grashow vowed, would be Zimbabwe’s gain.
“It always bothered me, but now I had a place to send these,” he said. “That was the seed.”
He and his wife began to collect the cast-offs and shipped them to Africa.
“This took on a life of its own,” Grashow said. “It started in Zimbabwe and expanded to other countries.”
On Monday, Grashow will give a presentation about the work of U.S.–Africa Children’s Fellowship at the Aspen home of Betty and Howard Wallach. Howard is an old friend of Grashow’s, the two having taught together at Lincoln High.
The nonprofit partners with New York City schools, which donate everything from books to sport and school equipment, all of which is shipped to schools in Africa. The program started with a partnership between 35 American schools and 35 Zimbabwean schools. It has grown to support an estimated 160,000 children in 320 schools in Africa.
All of the nonprofit’s donations go directly toward the education of the African students, Grashow said.
“The idea is to empower the kids,” he said.
Shipping a container of clothes to Ghana can cost roughly $5,000, he said. But because Zimbabwe is landlocked, shipping there can cost between $12,000 and $15,000, Grashow said.
Staff members aren’t paid, including Grashow, who is the charity’s president. His wife is the board treasurer.
The payoff, however, comes in other forms, such as seeing reading-test results improve from 5 percent to 60 percent in many of the schools the nonprofit helps.
“You change people’s lives,” Grashow said, recalling the time an English teacher in Zimbabwe had a worn-out edition of “Romeo and Juliet,” his only copy.
He said, ‘This is what I choose to teach from, but I will never even let the kids touch it.”
The next day, Grashow paid a follow-up visit to the teacher and handed him a box. Inside were 50 copies of the Shakespeare classic.
“He opened it, looked in and wept,” Grashow said. “He didn’t say a word, and if that doesn’t make you feel something good …”
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