Front page Article in the Journal News!

April 23, 2013 3:31 pm : News

By Swapna Venugopal Ramaswamy

MAMARONECK — Growing up in Lambaye, a small village in Senegal, Amary Seck did not have a desk or a chair. Soft drinks were reserved for when special guests visited. Snacking was an unknown concept.

“I sat on my bed to do my homework,” said Seck, 51, a chemistry teacher at Mamaroneck High School. “I didn’t have so many things that would have helped me to do better at school.”

Seck’s stories about growing up in the western African country so inspired his students that in 2009 they founded Students for Senegal, now the largest high school club with 250 members. Through bake sales, soccer tournaments, skateboard jams and annual galas, the club raised funds for everything from books to toothbrushes. Then, two years ago, 13 students from the club visited the impoverished country and came back with an ambitious plan to build a learning center for their counterparts in Lambaye.

On April 10, the students saw their dream take shape when New York-based BKSK Architects, working pro bono on behalf of the students, unveiled architectural renderings for the learning center at the club’s annual gala. The evening netted about $25,000, bringing the total raised for the project to more than $65,000.

“It was amazing to see the sketches. It was like our ideas were coming to life,” said Sami Meyerson, 17, a co-president of the club. “Seeing those sketches (has) motivated us to work harder to raise more money, and to see it get built.”

George Schieferdecker, a partner at BKSK, which designed the 13,000-square-foot expansion of the Mamaroneck Library, is a 19-year town resident whose two children graduated from Mamaroneck High School.

“It is a library and a learning center, something we think is a wonderful building type to be involved with,” Schieferdecker said of his motivation to donate his expertise.

BKSK architect Jennifer Preston, who accompanied 17 students to Lambaye in February, said the trip was an information-gathering session.

“We had a series of workshops in the village,” said Preston, who along with the students met with village officials, students, teachers, youth groups and women’s groups in Lambaye. “They had a wide range of expectations.”

During the trip, the village chief of Lambaye helped the group identify land for the center that, according to the plans, will be a 6,000-square-foot building with shaded outdoor space. The project is expected to cost about $100,000.

“The main focus would be a library, but the building will also have a computer lab, a performance center, a fabric dyeing room, and a cooking school,” said Preston, whose firm will be collaborating with Senegalese builders and architects.

Josh Kriss, 17, a co-president of the club, said having the plans laid out gave students a solid goal.

“People are working toward something that one day they might be able to go and visit and know that they helped build it,” Kriss said.

More than two decades after he left his native country for the United States without a job, or working papers, Seck, who went on to pursue college and graduate school, is viewed as a role model by the children of Lambaye.

“My parents were not literate,” said Seck, the son of a tailor who stitched military uniforms for a living.

“But my uncle, who was also not literate, saw the value of education and encouraged all his nephews and grandchildren to study hard. I want the kids there to have better educational opportunities,” he said.