Lower Eastside Girls Club Launches Sierra Leone Chapter
LOWER EAST SIDE — A slice of the Lower Eastside is heading all the way across the Atlantic Ocean to Sierra Leone.
The Lower Eastside Girls Club has created a new chapter in the west African country, working with a local nonprofit organization to support, educate and mentor young women.
The alliance will help fund entrepreneurial and education programs in Sierra Leone and girls at the Lower Eastside club have already begun penning letters of friendship to the new members abroad.
"Developing global partnerships and offering international service and leadership opportunities is a huge way to help Lower East Side girls grow intellectually and emotionally with a stronger world view," said Adriana Pezzulli, the director of development at the club.
The Sierra Leone chapter is the third global expansion for the club — there are already chapters in Nepal and Chiapas, Mexico. Board member and actress Rosario Dawson connected the club with the organization Shine on Sierra Leone to help build the Africa chapter.
"Many of the girls [in Sierra Leone] have huge domestic responsibilities that are comparable to a mother," said Pezzulli, explaining the challenges girls face to staying in school.
"Some of them have to ride 18 miles to go to school."
The chapter will work out of a school run by Shine On Sierra Leone in the Kono District town of Bongema, a diamond mining area ravaged by the decade-long civil war that ended in 2002. The Lower Eastside Girls Club will support and fund the operation.
"It will be similar to what we do here at the girls club," said Pezzulli, who recently traveled to Sierra Leone to train the staff.
She brought with her dozens of letters from Lower East Side members to welcome the new girls into the club.
"I told them my name and how old I am, my favorite color and what I like to do and I asked them those things," said Soraya Khan, 11, a Lower Eastside Girls Club member.
"I hope they are really happy and excited to get a letter from someone in New York City," she added. "And I hope they write me back."
In the coming years, Pezzulli hopes it won't just be letters crossing the Atlantic, but girls too.
"Girls have already visited our chapter in Chiapas half a dozen times," she said.
At the Sierra Leone chapter, an entrepreneurial program began last week, teaching young women to weave clothing and run a business.
Participants will make scarves from yarn unraveled from donated clothes that are too warm for the African climate — Pezzulli called it "up-cycling" — and the scarves will be sold at the club's La Tiendita Fair Trade and Girl Made Gift Shop at the Essex Street Market.
The club will also run a peer sexuality program, helping members teach other girls about safe sex, sexually transmitted infections and healthy relationships.
"The girls club is not an exclusive club where some get fun stuff and others don't," Pezzulli said. "They will become community leaders who can share and lead change in their community."