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U. Darby students raise funds for African library

UPPER DARBY The dirt road that leads to an empty library in Sinon, Tanzania, is a lot different than the streets that lead to Stonehurst Hills Elementary School in Upper Darby.

UPPER DARBY The dirt road that leads to an empty library in Sinon, Tanzania, is a lot different than the streets that lead to Stonehurst Hills Elementary School in Upper Darby.

The library in Sinon requires a guard post, and the street is lined with tropical trees and an occasional closet-size storefront that serves as a grocery. The streets near Stonehurst Hills feature small front yards with children's toys scattered about and American flags waving in the breeze.

In March, the students at Stonehurst Hills, 90 percent of whom qualify for a special lunch program, hoped to raise $260 for that library on the other side of the world.

And that goal was crushed. The students raised $1,500.

"Kids were coming in with just spare change, and asking neighbors and friends if they wanted to donate," said Frank Salerno, the principal at Stonehurst Hills. "I think it makes them feel good to help people who are in greater need than they are, which I think really transcends socio-economic status."

The fund-raiser wound up at Stonehurst Hills thanks to a partnership between two African immigrants. Richard Mshomba is an economics professor at La Salle University who came from Tanzania to the Philadelphia area in the 1980s. John Sneh is a Liberian immigrant and La Salle senior who started third grade at Stonehurst Hills after moving from a country being torn apart by a civil war.

"I know what it's like to be in a situation where you don't have life," Sneh said. "You don't have a book to read, and you have to walk miles to go to the nearest public library. The idea that these kids [in Tanzania] will have a library in their back yard, it's amazing for me."

Mshomba has been helping children in Tanzania attend school through personal grants and loans for years. Then, in 2008, he got the idea to build a library.

Education through reading, he said, is what can make a difference in the lives of most people. Therefore, he said, it's important for people there to take ownership of the library.

"It is really going to be a free library," Mshomba said. "So it is important for people to know that it is there for them, so they take care of it."

Mshomba said he wants the library one day to offer small-business classes for local people.

"We are trying to figure out what income-generating projects that we might also start," Mshomba said.

Sneh said he heard about the project at an award ceremony for Mshomba, and wanted to get his Enactus chapter involved. Enactus (EN-trepreneurial ACT-ion U.S.) is an international nonprofit that sponsors university chapters and encourages entrepreneurial civic engagement projects.

"From growing up in Africa, I realize there is a social inequality for the 'haves' and 'have-nots,' " Sneh said. "That really emotionally drew me into this project, because there's an opportunity for the people in this village who don't have anything. It's very difficult for you to have anything [there], and it's very difficult for you to go to school."

Sneh's Enactus group has raised $12,000 in two months on its way to a $15,000 goal. The money will be used to finish the physical components of the library, such as windows and bookshelves.

"Whatever they did, they hit a nerve, and people were really very responsive," said Marsha Timmerman, La Salle faculty adviser for Enactus. "We've had small fund-raisers for our teams and never raised those kinds of dollars."

Even more money is needed for books, and that's the next step.

"We want to get books that the students will need for their studies in Tanzania," Mshomba said. "For now, we want it to be a very practical library, where students can read the books that they have to read but are not available."