Tackling Educational Inequality Across the Ocean

An interview with the board of I-Help-Liberia

Reading Time: 5 minutes

Within New York, there is a disparity in education levels from district to district. As students at Stuyvesant, it’s sometimes hard to be readily aware of such differences because we have so many amazing opportunities readily available to us. Our high school offers multiple college level courses, an interesting variety of electives, an array of professional equipment in respect to both science and sports, and over 100 extracurricular options. Schools that do not have nearly as many resources foster an environment in which students might have trouble reading, doing mathematics, or even telling the time.

This problem is amplified when looking at kids in Third World countries. Children are unable to attain a proper education because the education system is not fully developed. Those developing countries are unable to pay for teachers and the proper supplies required to facilitate an educational environment. Many of these kids are left wandering the streets or working jobs while earning little pay. Without a new generation of properly trained and well-prepared students, the Third World country continues to struggle, and the vicious cycle is repeated.

Small but active steps are being taken to lessen the problem of educational disparity. Juniors Vivian Jiang, Anthony Jiang, and Tiffany Ho are part of the leadership board of Stuyvesant’s new club, I-HELP-Liberia. This club is geared toward providing support to children in the Third World country of Liberia. They focus on everything from collecting supplies to preparing lesson plans to help the teachers and students of Liberia.

The club recently hosted a supply drive from December 3 to December 17. They were collecting school supplies for kids in Liberia and accepting donations ranging from new to gently-used materials. Some of the items collected included pencil cases, pens, notebooks, and many textbooks kindly donated by biology teacher Marissa Maggio.

What prompted you to create the club?

VJ: A friend from Hunter, who's the president of the Hunter chapter of I-HELP Liberia reached out to me over the summer asking me if I wanted to start a Stuyvesant chapter of I-HELP Liberia. I-HELP Liberia began in Hunter and has been a club in Hunter for several years, and this year is the first year that they've decided to expand the club to other schools as well, specifically Stuyvesant, Brooklyn Technical, and Bronx Science. I-HELP Liberia is formed around a notable cause: empowering education in Liberia, a country in which quality education is scarce. In addition to working with all of the amazing people in the I-HELP Liberia City Board, I was really inspired by Hunter's dedication to their chapter of I-HELP Liberia, and I wanted to take part in helping the cause by creating the Stuyvesant chapter.

TH: This club started from a Facebook post that sparked my interest, so I reached out to the head of the group from another school. I really admired the work they were doing by actually taking the initiative and directly helping out disadvantaged students in Africa.

Why is this club important to you?

VJ: Education is frequently taken for granted. Many of us have access to many educational materials and have the opportunity to obtain better education, but many of us don't appreciate that. Through I-HELP Liberia, I hope to not only contribute to the improvement of Liberian education, but also help those that participate in our fundraisers and activities realize and appreciate all of the opportunities we have.

TH: We don't see how privileged we are to have so many resources around us. It's so easy to take advantage of these without giving back and contributing our own time and energy to help others get the same opportunities.

AJ: Not only do I have a chance to help a group of people that are in desperate need for support, but I am also able to give other people an opportunity to help that group of people. Many people find it difficult to help others in need, and I really love how I am able to lend a hand.

What are your goals for the year?

VJ: We plan on holding more fundraisers, drives, and all sorts of activities that the Stuyvesant community can participate in to help out students in Liberia. Hopefully, we'll be able to get in contact with more Liberians from different areas of the country and figure out ways to contribute to their education. We're currently preparing for the annual I-HELP Liberia Concert, which will be held at Hunter.

TH: Our goals will definitely be geared toward expanding outreach and getting our club to be an active member in the Stuyvesant community. We will be getting in contact with more and more Liberian students and teachers to narrow down how we can help them specifically.

AJ: We hope to collect a lot of supplies for the Liberian children this year. Forming more connections with Liberia is also a top priority, as that will help us understand in greater detail what they need.

Are you satisfied with how the drive ran?

VJ: In my opinion, the drive was pretty successful. As the first fundraiser of the year, I'm happy with the amount of supplies collected and the involvement of the members that watched over the donations table, which was down by the scanners, during their lunch periods and frees.

AJ: Yes, I am definitely satisfied with how the drive went. I am glad that so many people decided to help and donate supplies. We must extend a special thanks to Ms. Maggio for the lovely biology textbooks she donated.

Where in Liberia will the donations collected be going? To which age group will they be distributed?

VJ: The supplies from the donation will mostly be going to Saclepea, a rural town toward the east side of Liberia. Since Saclepea is much more rural than many other areas, the Liberian government doesn't provide them with as many resources as it does the more urban areas. By sending the majority of the collected supplies there, those in Saclepea will hopefully be able to utilize them to improve their classroom environment. Though most of the supplies will be sent to Saclepea, it's possible that some may be shipped to Ganta, a town in northern Liberia, but we're not entirely sure yet.

If you had to give an elevator pitch to prompt people to join the club, what would you say?

VJ: I-HELP Liberia works to improve education in Liberia by creating lesson plans and holding drives for educational materials. By interacting with Liberians, we hope to allow members to gain insight on life in a country very different from ours and provide a meaningful experience.

TH: We always hear stories about kids in Africa and how disadvantaged they are in terms of food, education, and safety, and when we hear this, we think momentarily about how we can help. However, we need to take real action and keep on thinking about these students. In such a global society, we are all interconnected, and as the saying goes, a chain is only as strong as its weakest link. When one of us falls, we need to help them catch up, and I-Help Liberia is an amazing opportunity to help them. While Liberia is far in distance, we can help bridge the gap in education and eliminate that distance between us. After all, we are all citizens of a global community.

AJ: If you wish to be a part of a great cause and help a disadvantaged group that isn’t as fortunate as us, join the Stuyvesant I-HELP Liberia club in our effort to provide Liberian students with academic supplies that they desperately need.