Local pastor, congregants making a difference in Africa
A local pastor and other congregants take their work as far as Sierra Leone through EduNations, a nonprofit which brings education and stability to some of the poorest areas in Africa.
Dr. Dean Weaver, lead pastor for Memorial Park Church in Allison Park, is one of the founders of the nonprofit which began in 2004. He said they want to help these villages that have been struggling for years, many still recovering from the fallout of the “Blood Diamond War” civil war and Ebola virus outbreak in portions of Africa just a few years ago.
Weaver said they realized the only way to save these children, many of whom are in orphanages, is through education. A father of six, two of his children are adoptees from Sierra Leone.
“The key to alleviating poverty and (building) development starts with education,” said Weaver.
While they build schools with Christian values, they said all faiths are welcome, including many Muslim children, adding these differing faiths live harmoniously in these villages. The completely free Christian schools are in some of the poorest, rural areas but they follow government standards and their schools have some of the highest graduation rates in the country.
Currently, they have six villages with schools, and those six locations may support even more neighboring villages. These can include nursery, primary, junior or secondary and even vocational schools, said Weaver.
And since it's free, they depend on the generous donations of the people here. Steven Little, an elder at Memorial Park Church, and on the EduNations board of directors, said a U.S. dollar goes very far.
“With the economy in Sierra Leone, you can do so much for so little money,” said Little, the chemical engineering department chair at the University of Pittsburgh.
They cover the costs of a teacher's salary, which ranges between $1,800 to $2,000 per year, all of whom are educated locally at the country's teacher's college, said Weaver. While this salary is considered middle income for the country, it typically provides for a teacher's whole extended family.
Weaver said when the government shut down the schools due to the ebola outbreak, they still were dedicated to paying these teacher's salaries because they knew how necessary it was for them to survive.
Overall, their work provides for around 120 jobs in the area, said Weaver.
Other donations would help build solar panels for schools or water wells. Building a school costs $35,000 to $40,000, said Weaver. Their current schools have approximately 3,000 students, and some of these villages are so remote that the students have to walk for miles to get there, he said.
To sustain a school for a year it takes just $15,000 to cover teachers' salaries, school supplies, uniforms, curriculum, and athletic activities, according to the EduNations.org.
Like Weaver and others working with EduNations, Little has adopted a child from Sierra Leone. She was deaf, but had surgery in the U.S. and is speaking. It's an example to others of how they can help those less fortunate, he said.
Donation opportunities range from just $28 a month to sponsor a student, which would help with books supplies and uniforms, to $1,800 a year to help provide for a teacher's salary, said Weaver.
When his father passed away, Weaver used the memorial funds to help build a guest house in Sierra Leone for those coming to stay and help. Otherwise, it's a two-hour drive to the nearest accommodations, he said.
Jeffrey Gingrich, a urologist in the Pittsburgh area, is also on the board of EduNations and has made four trips to the villages of Sierra Leone.
“I have been interested in looking into health care issues for the children and people in the villages where we have schools, making some connections with the medical community, trying to do a little medical education as well,” said Gingrich, of Wexford.
They are in the process of building a clinic in one of the villages, he said.
For more information or to donate, visit edunations.org.
Natalie Beneviat is a Tribune-Review contributor.