Teens devoted to service hear of African aid

Bead sales raise money for tuition, books and supplies, uniforms, and meals for children in Uganda.
Bead sales raise money for tuition, books and supplies, uniforms, and meals for children in Uganda.
Posted: October 10, 2013

When Clarke Horowitz needed a bar mitzvah community service project, selling beads to help children in Africa seemed like a perfect way to give back.

So far, Horowitz, 13, of Voorhees, has raised $1,200 to support children in Uganda. Although his bar mitzvah was a few weeks ago, he plans to keep selling the beads.

"I enjoy it, so I would like to help," Horowitz said. "I know there's probably a kid just like me in Africa."

Horowitz and two other students who organized projects in South Jersey to help children in Uganda whose families have been ravaged by HIV/AIDS had a chance Tuesday to hear firsthand how their work has made a difference.

They met Samuel Guma, founder and director of a hospice in Kampala that operates a school for more than 100 children, most orphans.

Guma said their work raises funds to pay for tuition, books and supplies, uniforms, and meals for children who otherwise would not get an education.

"It takes a special kid to realize that kind of need and go out and do something to help," Guma said. "I really appreciate it very much."

The students volunteer through the Samaritan Healthcare and Hospice in Marlton, which works with Guma and shares expertise, resources, and supplies.

The colorful beads are made from recycled paper and turned into necklaces, bracelets, and earrings. No two pieces are alike.

The jewelry is made in Uganda by men and women who have HIV/AIDS, and are purchased by the hospice, Guma said. The men and women also make bags and baskets. The project is among several to teach skills to those affected by the epidemic and empower them.

One woman, once homeless, has made enough money to buy land and two houses, and is now a landlord, he said. "Her life has changed."

The beads are sold only in the United States by Samaritan Healthcare and Hospice. Guma hopes to expand the project to other cities. They are also sold in the United Kingdom, Norway, and Denmark.

In two years, the beads project has raised about $30,000, said Sally Cezo, manager of volunteer services for the Marlton hospice. Adult volunteers also sell the beads, she said.

Members of a group known as SamariTeens, Horowitz and Julia Ramirez, 16, of Mount Laurel, sold beads to classmates, family, friends, and neighbors. About 60 teenagers 14 to 17 participate in the program.

"The fact that it's kids helping kids is just beautiful," Cezo said. "I think they're just incredible."

Horowitz and Ramirez were invited to a reception Tuesday to honor Guma and his wife, Gloria. Guma is spending a week here for training.

"Age is not a factor. You start from your heart and the seeds grow," said Mary Ann Boccolini, president and chief executive of Samaritan Healthcare and Hospice.

Ramirez said she began volunteering with Samaritan about two years ago, making crafts for patients. She wanted to do more to help.

"I really like to help people and give back," said Ramirez, a junior at Lenape High School. "I thought this was a good thing to do."

With help from Sister Caterina, 12, she raised about $400 in two weeks. Her little sister is anxious to volunteer when she turns 13 in a few months.

"Since I'm fortunate to have the things that I have, I should help other kids," Caterina Ramirez said. "Why not help someone when you're so fortunate?"

Horowitz, a seventh grader at Voorhees Middle School, said he was inspired by Guma. He sold beads to his bar mitzvah guests and his baseball team.

"Most young boys . . . are not thinking of other people thousands of miles away," said his grandmother Barbara Horowitz. "We're extremely proud of him."


mburney@phillynews.com

856-779-3814 @mlburney

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