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Howard Grads Make First Donation of Backpacks to Schools

LiLi Stephens-Henry (center) and Christine Singh (right) show  Elise Ulmer, administrative assistant, of Aiton Elementary School the “I am Empowered” buttons she attached to all the backpacks donated to the school. The buttons were provided by the National Urban League in Jamaica.

WASHINGTON – Howard University alumni Lili Stephens-Henry and Christine Singh, who graduated less than a month ago, presented Aiton Elementary School in Washington with 20 backpacks and shipped another 80 to Jamaica and Haiti, the first in what they hope will be annual donations to underserved children in the District, Jamaica and Haiti.

The donations were the culmination of “Lili’s Backpack Project,” a months-long effort by the Howard University Caribbean Students Association to help young students who cannot afford the backpacks.

“Oh, my gosh, they are such good quality,” said Elise Ulmer, an administrative assistant at Aiton Elementary School as she unpacked the box and examined the donation.  “Wow! Howard backpacks.  Thank you so much for choosing our school.”

Stephens-Henry came up with the idea of backpacks after noticing how expensive they were in Jamaica while she was there visiting families.

Four large boxes of backpacks are now on their way to Jamaica and Haiti.  FedEx shipped the cargo complimentary to New York where Dennis Shipping Company will ship them free of charge to Jamaica.  From Jamaica, Stephen-Henry’s grandfather, Mike Henry, who just happens to be the nation’s minister of Transportation, will make sure they get to Haiti.

“Since Dennis Shipping Company doesn’t ship to Haiti, we are shipping everything to Jamaica and then from there we have made arrangements for a local shipping company to ship to Haiti at no cost.”

The Ecole Bon Samaritan orphanage in Haiti will receive two large boxes of backpacks and another box of clothing and one more of personal care products.

 “The principal at the orphanage says that the students are in need of personal care products,” said Nykeeba Brown, one of the many Howard students who worked at the facility during Howard University’s Alternative Spring Break Program this year.  “So we made some purchases of sanitary napkins, toothbrushes, toothpaste, deodorant, soap and underwear and included them in the shipment.”

The orphanage, 90 minutes outside the capital Port-au-Prince, houses 19 residents ages 3 to 21; and during the day it is a school for 100 students. 

Two additional boxes of backpacks are being shipped to New York this week from Florida from donations received from Florida International University and Broward College.  The two schools also launched drives on their campuses.  The shipments will be added to the donations from Howard University.

Stephens-Henry said plans the group’s initial success into an annual event.

“I am definitely going to be working on making this drive an annual affair, expanding it and looking at resources available from Howard University Department of Alumni Relations and the National Urban League,” she said.

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