Dena Grushkin Florczyk ’80: Making a Difference in Nigeria
“I have become somewhat of a voice for the voiceless,” says Dena Grushkin Florczyk ’80. She’s a longtime public school teacher, an avid photographer, a wife, and the mother of two, but her voice may be strongest in yet another role that keeps her life rich in meaning: Florczyk is the founder and director of The Nigerian School Project (TNSP, www.NigerianSchoolProject.org), a nonprofit that provides resources to teachers and students in Nigeria.
It was Florczyk’s first trip to the country in 2004, when she did a little advance fund-raising, that taught her the powerful lesson of “how a little thing can be so much over there. A little can move mountains. … I saw the tremendous need, and I felt enormous gratitude from teachers and students. As a result, I felt that I could not turn my back and walk away.”
Florczyk returned home from that trip and founded TNSP. Since then, it has provided textbooks, supplies, uniforms, classroom furniture, and scholarships; built five libraries in existing schools; sent thousands of books to fill their shelves; and — most exciting to her — completed a secondary school across the channel from Nigeria’s capital, Lagos. “It is the first secondary school ever in this devastatingly poor river community,” says Florczyk, who adds that during a June ceremony when the school was turned over to the ministry of education, a tribal leader declared, “This day will go down in history. This community will no longer remain in the darkness. Our existence can no longer be ignored.”
Florczyk has been able to gain tremendous support for her work from her home community of Teaneck, New Jersey, where she organizes fund raisers, collects donated books, and shares her experiences with local schoolchildren. She also travels to Nigeria every summer, accompanied by other teachers who share their knowledge of African-American history, Harlem Renaissance poetry, theater, math, and photography with the students. “It’s a life-changing experience for all involved,” says Florczyk, who’s considering expanding this part of the program.
During the rest of the year, Florczyk is fortunate to have a “fantastic on-ground coordinator” who oversees all of her projects, and she adds that she’s “built a strong network of friends, teachers, administrators, and government officials who have made all of this possible.”
But even so, how does she do it all? Florczyk says that she’s driven by “a passion for kids, education, and the moral right. … I make it work because it’s a priority, and because I have made a commitment to do so. … To be able to make a difference — and see the difference — is a feeling like no other.” Her photography is also equally critical to the effort: “It’s the fuel in my machine,” she explains. “I take pictures of these beautiful [Nigerian] children, and I’m continually reminded of the gift I’ve been given.”
Published in the Winter 2009 issue