O'Fallon Progress

OTHS Interact Club empowering literacy for African children

The O’Fallon Progress

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An O’Fallon Township High School organization dedicated to community service is empowering African children through literacy. This May, they have collected enough books and funds to build three libraries in Malawi.

OTHS’ Interact Club, which is sponsored by the O’Fallon Rotary’s Noon Club, is sending 3,500 books to Malawi this week. Their initial goal was 1,000 books and raising $500 for shipping, book and packing tape costs, faculty adviser Jessie Day said.

“They smashed their goal. My kids are amazing. They always go above and beyond,” Day said. “They’re passionate about helping and this will make a huge difference in people’s lives.”

Day, who has taught Family and Consumer Sciences classes for 11 years, has also been the club adviser for that long.

“It’s been perfect for what I teach,” she said.

Day involved her Growth and Development of Children, Health and World Cuisine classes by having them research Malawi. Then, they created age and culturally appropriate classroom materials, health awareness posters and preschool workbooks for the library/classroom that will service preschool through fourth graders.

Since February, the Interact Club has raised more than $1,000 to help with expenses. Donations and fundraisers, including support from McAllister’s Deli, Jersey Mike’s and the community, have helped. The O’Fallon Public Library donated books, as did residents, church members, local businesses and students, faculty and staff at OTHS.

“We got tons of books from here, there and everywhere,” Day said.

After helping to build clean-water wells in Malawi and the Shoeman Project, the club discovered the African Library Project, which promoted starting a library with 1,000 books and $500.

“It was very doable and had very attainable goals,” Day said. “Now that basic health has been addressed with the wells, we would like to focus on education.”

Day noted the students are aware of the gender disparity in that country, and considers education important for female students, she said.

The Interact Clubs are the high school arm of Rotary Club International, bringing together students ages 12-18 to develop leadership skills while learning that “Service Above Self” is powerful — and fun.

Day said the group sponsors at least two projects every year, one that helps either their school or community, and another that promotes international understanding. Rotary club sponsors help to mentor and guide the students.

Currently, the group has 25 members.

“The kids like the diversity of the projects. They’ve been given opportunities to use their leadership capabilities,” she said. “They get to talk to a variety of people and build their confidence.”

Every year locally, the group has been cleaning up Highway 50 and sponsoring Secret Santa, helping disadvantaged children through Hoyleton Youth Services and Caritas. As of 2016, they had helped fulfill Christmas lists for more than 2,000 local children, so Day estimated they are at around 3,000 children at this point because the program has grown.

“Every year, they can see they’re making a difference,” Day said. “By empowering other people, they are discovering their own power.”

Malawi is in southeast Africa, west of Tanzania and Mozambique.

The OTHS group has partnered with a village named Kasuluwa in Northern Malawi. Most villagers are farmers on subsistence farms. There is no electricity and no access to clean water, but many individuals are committed to helping build this library to provide educational opportunities for its youth, Day said. They are working with headmaster Pius K. Tembo.

Now, all that’s left is the shipping, which is laborious and intense.

But the Interact Club isn’t dissuaded easily if it makes the world a better place.

For more information, visit the website https://www.africanlibraryproject.org/book-drives/book-drives-in-action?alpdetail=1433#.XNCxY-i6Mps

Day can be reached at dayj@oths.us or 618-632-3507, ext. 592.

Learn more about the African Library Project at http://www.africanlibraryproject.org.