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Rotary and Lee County Schools help Liberian students

A Dougherty County service club teams with Lee County achools

Shirley Armstrong, Rotary Club volunteer, and Christopher Rolls with Cordele Intermodal Services fill a a 40-foot container surplus desks for shipment to Liberian students.

Shirley Armstrong, Rotary Club volunteer, and Christopher Rolls with Cordele Intermodal Services fill a a 40-foot container surplus desks for shipment to Liberian students.

ALBANY — It’s been a long while since most of us have made good use of VCRs or overhead projectors. Those near-forgotten items, along with out-of-date textbooks, world globes, slightly worn desks and other items lie stacked in storage at many school systems, including Lee County. Soon though, through an international project by the Dougherty County Rotary Club, those south Georgia castoffs could offer up an educational opportunities for students in Liberia.

It started a few months ago when Lee County School Supt. Laurence Walters appeared as guest speaker at the Dougherty Rotary. Somehow the topic came around to the “tons” of surplus educational materials languishing in storehouses, Walters said, and the idea of shipping some of it to a third-world country began to pick up speed.

Jennifer Vanston, Dougherty County Rotary Club member and executive director of Flint River Habitat for Humanity, said she immediately envisioned a shipment to Liberia, a poor African nation torn by 14 years of civil strife. Vanston, who moved here with her husband about a year ago, had served in the Peace Corps, she said, and had lived in Zambia for years. She was aware of the need for school supplies and materials.

“Many of the schools there have no furniture, pens, paper or a way for the students to get there,” Vanston said. “We’re so fortunate here. When I came back home I’d grab up some of the basic things, like pens, pencils, books and chairs and bring them over or send them by sea mail”

Liberia was a natural “connection,” Vanston said, not only because of the country’s great need and cooperation, but because of Vanston’s friendship with Dr. James Sirleaf, director of emergency medicine at Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital, and his mother, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, president of Liberia. Rotary members began to search for a way of sending the surplus items.

“At first I thought would be just a small container, but it really grew,” said Tammy McCrary Rotary Club member and a coordinator of the project. “Dougherty and Worth counties got involved, as well as Sherwood Christian School, and Deerfield Windsor and the students at Far Horizons Montessori School. So many people have wanted to be a part of this but we had so much from Lee County, that will be the shipment this time.”

Last Friday and Saturday volunteers were busy packing a 40-foot container with the best of what would fit. Patrick Rolls with Cordele Intermodal Services was there to help. Rolls said his company donated the container and shipping by rail to the port in Savannah, where the school materials be soon be on it’s way to Liberia.

Rotary members say they’ve put in for a grant from Rotary International for an ongoing project to send at least two of the containers to Liberia each year.