By Christopher Brooks
What started as just a small donation of school supplies for impoverished children has now transformed into a donation of 1,500 books to the Thomas Fallah Institute of Vocational Education in Paynesville, Liberia.
The initiative has been long in the making, said Sharon Sherman, dean of the School of Education.
“The story began last summer when three unrelated events came together,” she said. “I have a good friend, Aaron, who is a Liberian. We talk often about the needs of the children of his country. In early September, my husband and I gathered clothing, books, paper, pencils, rulers and many other items, and sent them to the children.”
While walking across campus on Sept. 8, 2013, Sherman bumped into Nathalie Ejiogu Smart, ’12, a recent graduate of Rider’s counseling program. Smart had recently spent three months in Liberia, and Sherman explained her recent donation to the country. Wanting to continue to assist the children, Sherman asked Smart if there was any way she could help.
After contacting a friend in Paynesville, Liberia, Smart discovered that the junior high and high school students were in great need of books for a library.
The next day, Sherman received a message from Suzanne Carbonaro, coordinator of assessment and special projects for the School of Education. Carbonaro explained that senior education major Gina Marano had received a donation of 1,500 books from a retiring school librarian. The library was downsizing and attempting to find a new location for the books.
“I began to connect the dots, speaking with Gina Marano; the librarian at her school; and an overseas shipping company in Trenton,” Sherman said. “Money needed to be raised to ship the books, so I contacted Marci Rubin, Student Education Association president, to ask if the group wanted to become involved, and they did.”
After raising the money, the books were sent late in the fall and arrived in Paynesville, Liberia on Jan. 10. Sherman received an email from acting Paynesville, Mayor Cyvette C.M.Gibson, who distributed the books to Thomas Fallah Institute of Vocational Education.
“I have a great love for books and reading, and I love to share that with others,” Marano said. “I think that everyone should have the opportunity to learn how to read and have access to great books. I feel very lucky to be able to give books to children who really needed them and I am very grateful to Doris Gullion who donated the books to me after her retirement as a librarian. Dean Sherman was also a huge help in finding their home in Liberia and getting them sent there.”
Though Sherman did not originally expect to be able to make a donation of such size, the stars seemed to align, giving her an opportunity to help those who are less fortunate.
“Serendipity and a bit of creativity allowed me to connect the dots to make something special happen for the children of Paynesville, Liberia,” Sherman said.
Through this experience, Rider has opened a door for collaboration presently and in the future, Sherman said.