A 20-year-old college student who is making a difference in the lives of children in a small African village was the latest featured speaker at the Rotary Club of San Marino.
Olivia Leventhal talked about starting The Mlangarini Project, which is a grassroots, nonprofit organization that she founded. It provides direct assistance to the local primary school of Mlangarini, which is a village near Arusha, Tanzania.
“The school lacks the necessary funds to give each student a proper education,” explained San Marino Rotary Programs Chairman Georg Eittinger. “The Mlangarini Project tries to bridge that gap. Another current effort of The Mlangarini Project includes a rain capture program for fresh drinking water.”
Leventhal’s parents, Ken Hurbert and Cindy Kolodziejski, joined her at the June 16 Rotary meeting. They both work with their daughter, to help the people of Mlangarini and recently returned from their fifth trip as a family to the Tanzanian village.
During the summer of 2011, a then 15-year-old Leventhal was encouraged by her parents to visit Mlangarini with a student travel program.
“We lived there in the village for one month,” she said. “I was there with 15 other high school students and two group leaders. Our project was to build a classroom for Mlangarini primary school. We worked together with other members of the village who were more experienced at building classrooms and houses.”
Leventhal said she met a 7-year-old local girl, Salima, on her second day there.
“I just fell in love with her,” she said. “We didn’t speak the same language, but we were able to make each other laugh within minutes of meeting each other. For the rest of the month in the village, wherever I was, Salima was right by my side.”
Leventhal said after a month went by, she didn’t want to leave Mlangarini.
“I couldn’t imagine never seeing Salima again,” she said. “I couldn’t imagine never seeing all these amazing people of Mlangarini village who really just welcomed me into their lives and showed me so much generosity that I’ve never experienced before.”
The Mlangarini Project was founded through Leventhal’s discussion with her parents about how to help Salima and the other people of her village.
“For the Mlangarini Project, our mission from the start has been education,” Leventhal said. “Mlangarini primary school is a government school and they really lack the necessary funds to give a child a proper education. When we first arrived there, the ratio for textbooks for children was about 1 to 7.”
The Mlangarini Project has purchased 3,620 textbooks for the children, 500 school uniforms, stationery, 10 soccer balls, first aid supplies, two solar panels and 125 desks, in addition to making numerous facility improvements. It also hired an English tutor for the teachers to better their English language skills, which would in turn help the students. The Mlangarini Project collects monetary and material donations. San Marino dentist and Rotarian Fary Yassamy has continuously donated dental hygiene products, Leventhal said.
“The Mlangarini Project is not a big charity, but every dollar we raise goes directly to Mlangarini school,” Leventhal said. “Whenever we travel there—which is once a year for the past five years—all of our travel fees are paid out of pocket. It does not come from donations we receive because we really want every donation to directly impact Mlangarini primary school.”
Leventhal continued, “There may be only 669 children at Mlangarini primary school, but they all deserve a chance at a better future. We really believe that starts with a good education.”
Leventhal is a rising junior majoring in neuroscience at Swarthmore College in Swarthmore, Pa., near Philadelphia.
“Anybody who was ever in doubt that one person could make a difference in the world, hopefully that’s been dispelled now,” San Marino Rotary President Mike Driebe said, after hearing Leventhal’s presentation.
Donations can be made at www.mlangariniproject.org or mailed to The Mlangarini Project, 2009 Glyndon Ave., Venice, CA 90291.