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St. Hilary students learn about Africa while helping students a continent away

new_CSW10 Africa 2Eighth graders Emma Hock, Catarina Whittaker, Charlotte Hackman, Ella Chihurski and Carly Yoon are among about 30 St. Hilary School students who participate in Pencils for Africa, a program created by teacher Chyah Weitzman, center, and a former St. Hilary parent to educate about Africa and Africans. (Photo by Christina Gray/Catholic San Francisco)

January 26, 2017
Christina Gray

Four years after creating a program called Pencils for Africa, a student service group conceived to help provide poor families with the simple writing implement necessary for school admission, St. Hilary School in Tiburon has expanded upon the original concept.

The program was originated by Kenya native and former St. Hilary parent Karim Ajania and art teacher Chyah Weitzman to help erase misconceptions about Africa and Africans while extending resources and empowering peers in conflict-ravaged regions of the continent.

“We started with the idea of sending used pencils to level the playing field for the students in Africa,” said Weitzman, who has taught at St. Hilary for almost 20 years. The group did collect and send used pencils to Africa initially, but found that the cost of shipping the pencils was prohibitive. Now they work with companies who donate and ship the pencils themselves.

Weitzman said the program has become a much more “realistic and honest venture.”

Eighth grader Carly Yoon participates in the fundraising arm of PFA, which funds 10 different organizations in Africa that help Africans sustain their own lives. One is called Bicycles against Poverty. It doesn’t merely give a bicycle to poor Africans, it gives them an opportunity to “rent to own.”

St. Hilary has raised $8,000 to fund these programs, with students holding bake sales and selling lemonade to fund Pencils for Africa and other programs for their fellow students in Africa.

“What each of these 10 organizations has in common,” said St. Hilary student Yoon, is that all “give a hand up and not just a hand out.”

Eighth grader Ella Chiurski said that her participation during the past four years has helped open her eyes to the real Africa and the people who live there.

“Going into the group, I had the same misconceptions that a lot of people do about Africa, that it was nothing but mud huts,” she said. What she learned is that although some people do live in extreme poverty, “they don’t see themselves as poor.”

“I come in contact with a lot of Africans through PFA and I’ve learned what the real Africa is,” she said.

Visit pencilsforafrica.com.

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