It began as a way for students at Frontier High School to help with a good cause.
But Buffalo for Africa has become both a not-for-profit organization and a labor of love for Christine DeNisco, a Spanish teacher at Frontier.
“Buffalo for Africa, we started out as a grass roots effort to raise awareness about the genocide in Darfur,” said DeNisco.
After reading about the problems, DeNisco started Buffalo for Africa in 2006, after discussing the problems of genocide, including in Rwanda as well as the Holocaust led by Adolph Hitler and Nazi Germany in the 1930s and 1940s.
DeNisco realized there are problems going on and she wanted her students to do their part to help make the world a better place.
The students started holding fundraisers, but DeNisco said she and the group realized it could be more successful if they created a not-for-profit.
“It took us a little while (to get started) because the UB law school helped us (obtain the not-for-profit status),” said DeNisco.
From there, she said among the main goals of the group was to continue to raise funds and educate and become better educated themselves.
This included learning more about the African community in Western New York,” said DeNisco. “It was a city-wide thing.”
DeNisco noted that a board of directors was formed which consists of business people and educators throughout the region.
According to DeNisco, other area schools got involved. She said the prerequisite was simple: they would hold the events as long as students knew about them.
As a result, students were raising money by doing things such as holding spaghetti dinners and creating a cook book.
There was also a website created, buffaloforafrica.org which serves as a sounding board for the positive impact the group was having both in Africa as well as the Western New York community.
While the effort continued and the students raised money for the cause, the idea came about to form a sister city.
“Explore and get to know another culture better,” said DeNisco.
She said she became interested in helping the people of Rwanda after seeing the film Hotel Rwanda starring Don Cheadle.
With the help of Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown, Buffalo formed a sister city partnership with Rwanda. Muhanga, and DeNisco just returned after a two week trip.
She traveled their with Carl Wilkins, whom she said in 1990 was stationed in Rwanda when the airplane of the Rwanda President was shot down. While others evacuated, Wilkins and his wife decided he should stay behind and assist those victims of the genocide.
She said through his efforts hundreds of lives were saved. There are still people who see him, recognize him and thank him for saving their lives. Over the course of 100 days, Wilkins delivered water and protein biscuits to survivors of the genocide. Wilkins, who is from Washington, D.C, spent those days visiting schools, orphanages and helped street kids.
DeNisco said it was powerful listening to the testimony of the many genocide survivors.
But witnessing life for those in Rwanda and assisting them today was a fulfilling experience for DeNisco.
She said one of the days they went on a safari. Another day they visited a church where weapons, including machetes, were sitting on the altar.
“It was pretty horrifying,” she said.
However, she said she also got to witness first hand “what aid can do” and that made the trip worth it.
“Any country in conflict can learn from Rwanda. Unifying, resilient and happy,” said DeNisco.
The Frontier teacher said throughout the trip, a word which would come up constantly is “faith.”
“I heard a lot about faith. Many who were spared don’t know how they survived,” said DeNisco. “I certainly saw some progress.”
She said those who came to help “were treated like royalty” and found out they changed the names of several of the cities after the genocide as a way to try and forget about the pain and suffering. DeNisco said she thought to herself “I can’t be a bystander and watch this go on.”
As part of her trip, DeNisco said she was able to bring a solar panel to help light a house as part of the Light 4 Africa campaign.
DeNisco encourages people to visit buffaloforafrica.org to sponsor a child or buy a solar panel to help light up homes and villages.
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