'Shoes for School': Adams teen steps up to support Malawi

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Editor's note: This is the first part in a two-part story about the "Shoes for School" project for an initiative called "Lending a Hand in the Warm Heart of Africa Inc."

ADAMS — Nothing lasts forever, but one local outreach project to better support children and families in Africa has a better chance of longevity, thanks to Adams teen, Allison Racela.

Under the tutelage of Stephen D. Sneed, of Williamstown, a longtime dean and Fulbright Scholar of Williams College, Racela has become increasingly interested and involved in supporting Sneed's outreach initiative, "Lending a Hand in the Warm Heart of Africa Inc."

It started with her grandparents, John and Marilyn Garner of North Adams, who first became supporters of the project after overhearing a conversation about Sneed's work.

"[John] gave me a check and I was really surprised," said Sneed of the young woman's grandfather. These days, Sneed said, it costs about $150 to ship a 50-pound box of goods to the Muslim village of Milonde and Christian village of Mkweate, both which he says has welcomed him and fellow supporters.

Sneed first traveled to Malawi in 1992, where he worked to develop an exchange program involving Washington State University. He was named a J. William Fulbright Foreign Scholarship recipient for the 2003-04 academic year while working at Williams. Traveling with his own children, Sneed said that while they had "an absolutely wonderful time," they were also "appalled at the poverty there."

"We decided to do something," he said. So began the collection and shipping of clothing and shoes, textbooks, toys and other goods.

In Malawi, he said, "shoes are worth their weight in gold," noting that shoes are not only used to protect people's feet from rocky terrain and earth-dwelling parasites, but also ease long pedestrian commutes to schools, all of which require shoes for entry.

As Racela learned about Sneed and his work through her grandparents, she became eager to help. In third grade, Sneed visited her class at C.T. Plunkett Elementary School, after a story inspired them to reach out to people in Africa.

"I got so excited about it. Even though my classmates may not have been, I couldn't believe he was there presenting. He brought all kinds of stuff," Racela said.

Sneed and his wife, France Jones-Sneed, have amassed a collection of clothing, art and artifacts of the African regions they've connected with.

Over the years, Racela and her family would continue to make contributions to the cause. Most recently, to help support her grandparents' donation, the young woman used her own allowance and saved birthday monies to put towards the completion of a home for a family in Malawi. Sneed said the funds not only purchase materials to build houses, but also are used to hire workers from the villages to do the job.

Racela said, looking ahead, "I now feel like I'm old enough to take more on."

This story will be continued on next week's Learning page.


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