Lighting up Africa

Lighting up Africa

Frisch raises money for solar technology with fashion show

The Frisch School’s Africa-themed fashion show raised funds for solar panels and other needs.

What do the students at a New Jersey Jewish high school and 450,000 residents of rural African villages have in common?

Since 2008, the nonprofit agency called Innovation: Africa – iA – has brought Israeli solar technology to provide clean water, drip irrigation, and refrigeration to villagers in Malawi, Tanzania, Uganda, and Ethiopia. And for the last three years, this UN-award winning program has been a focal point for the Frisch School in Paramus.

An African Encounter Night and Africa-themed fashion show held last month exposed students and parents to iA’s work and raised another $3,300 toward Frisch’s goal of contributing $10,000 to light up a sister school in East Africa using solar panels.

“The fact that Frisch has decided to educate children on wider global issues is remarkable and demonstrates a break from the norm,” said Emma Goldman, Innovation: Africa’s outreach coordinator.

“Orthodox Jewish schools tend to be more insular and one-dimensional, largely focusing on community-related concerns,” she continued. “But Frisch has realized the value of teaching the students the plights of other communities – even as far-flung as Africa. They’ve done an impressive job of integrating iA into history lessons, geography and science.”

Tikvah Wiener, who is the head of Frisch’s English department and the director of educational innovation there, is responsible for implementing the student-driven RealSchool initiative of which the iA project is a part. She describes it as “project-based learning and passion-based learning – trying to get kids out of their desks and engaged in learning by connecting hand, head, and heart.”

The multi-disciplinary Frisch Africa Encounter uses iA as a way to deepen student knowledge about the African continent’s problems and the various solutions that have been making a difference in recent years.

“Learning about iA is particularly relevant for the students of Frisch, as they discover not only their obligation as Jews to better the world, but also to see how Israel is working to advance the world in ways that are impressive and laudable,” Ms. Wiener wrote in her blog.

At the African Encounter night on March 12, students guided parents through interactive activities, including a jerry-can station to replicate the long walk for water that many rural Africans still endure today, and exhibits on imperialism, the slave trade, and Western colonialism. They also demonstrated drip irrigation, an Israeli-pioneered technology that is used across the world to grow crops more efficiently with less water.

“We did research on the technology and learned it was developed in Israel,” said Zachary Abraham of Teaneck. “Innovation: Africa supplies countries in Africa with this technology because they have the same water issues. Now they don’t have to rely on food aid from the West.”

Lila Wiener of Teaneck said the students showed parents a video illustrating how iA solar installations are lighting up schools and charging mobile phones. “Many children weren’t going to school because they had to spend daylight hours fetching water,” she said. Parents at Frisch were blindfolded and then asked to do such chores as setting a table or taking medicine, giving them a better understanding of how the lack of electric light affects so many aspects of daily living.

For the night of the March 23 fashion show, an all-female endeavor, students created a mural depicting four Jewish women – two from ancient history and two from modern times – whom they chose as inspirations for environmental justice. The two modern women are Yvonne Marzouk, founder of the Torah-based environmental movement Canfei Nesharim, and iA’s founder and president Sivan Ya’ari. The two women representing the ancient period are the biblical personalities Miriam and Chava (Eve).

“Sivan has a master’s degree in energy management, and that introduces kids to unusual STEM [science, technology, engineering, and math] professions they might pursue while helping the world,” Tikvah Wiener said. “The organization is such a win-win on so many levels.”

At the student-produced fashion show, models wore eco-friendly clothes – eight outfits per grade – inspired by the environmental themes of water, fire, desert, and jungle that each grade had used to create a terrarium representing a specific biome. (The terrariums and Fair Trade wares were sold at the event to benefit iA along with proceeds from ticket sales.)

Melissa Maza, an Englewood senior, said that she and the other designers scoured their closets and went to Marcia’s Attic in Englewood to find relevant representations of each biome. (Marcia’s Attic loaned the clothing; Glam Salon in Englewood did the models’ makeup and hair, and Home Depot in Paramus donated the runway.) “I learned that I can connect a lot of my interests and create a really successful event from fashion and science,” Ms. Maza said.

Maddie Rosen, a Teaneck junior, raised money for iA last year by running a coffee shop in school, and this year she modeled the junior theme – desert. “I wore colors you’d find in the desert: a brown cheetah-print skirt and brown top, jacket and nude heels,” she said.

Ms. Wiener said that each grade was asked to contribute $500 toward iA, and some took the challenge personally. “Two Teaneck boys, Jonah Waldman and Sam Feinberg, shoveled driveways and made $200 and donated all of it,” she said.

“We’ve now worked with Innovation: Africa for three years, and I think the kids really see they can be proud of Israel for helping the world. It speaks to the mission of school, educating responsible Jews.”

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