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Buffalo charity helping build schools, educate girls in Africa

Young girls soon will learn leadership at a school in the sub-Saharan African nation of Zambia, and a girls boarding school is rising in a remote corner of Tanzania, thanks in part to a Buffalo charity that sprang up only last year – and that already finds itself working with a nonprofit backed by the Clinton Global Initiative.

The Buffalo-based charity, called the Girls Education Collaborative, teams with other groups to make sure that young girls in underdeveloped parts of the world get the education they need.

And the group is coming close to fulfilling its aim even faster than its founder and executive director, Anne Wadsworth, ever expected.

“It’s really quite an honor to be asked to engage with the Clinton Global Initiative,” Wadsworth said of the connection to former President Bill Clinton’s effort to get companies and other organizations worldwide to commit to try to solve the world’s problems one at a time.

Wadsworth’s group announced last week that another charity – SCALEAfrica – had chosen it to put together the girls leadership program at a school that’s being built in rural Mfuwe, Zambia.

At last month’s Clinton Global Initiative meeting in New York, SCALEAfrica committed itself to a $450,000 effort to build “the first sustainably designed, technology-based primary school in Zambia,” and Wadsworth’s project will be developed there – with the hope that it can be replicated at rural schools throughout the nation.

“Through well-designed learning environments and 21st-century resources, Zambian students can be educated out of a life of poverty and armed with applicable knowledge and tools for survival,” said Erinn McGurn, SCALEAfrica’s executive director.

That’s just what Wadsworth is hoping.

After raising three children – and a detour managing the late Alice Kryzan’s unsuccessful race for Congress in 2008 – Wadsworth finished her master’s degree in public administration at Syracuse University.

There, she took a course called “Girls Education in Developing Countries,” and it changed her life.

“When I learned what barriers there were for girls around the world between them and their education, and when I learned the ripple effects of their education, I could not walk away,” Wadsworth said.

Instead, she went to work, first as executive director of the Kakenya Center for Excellence, a girls school in Kenya, and then as founder of the Girls Education Collaborative.

The fledgling charity spun out of the University at Buffalo’s Buffalo Tanzania Education Project after Wadsworth and others from the group concluded there was a need for a nonprofit dedicated solely to the education of young girls.

Almost immediately, the Girls Education Collaborative went to work on its first project: working with the Immaculate Heart Sisters of Africa to build a girls boarding school in the village of Kitenga, Tanzania, in a rural part of the country with no paved roads, no running water and no electricity.

“Without an education, the chances are very high that the girls there will be sold into marriage,” Wadsworth said.

The school is scheduled to open in January 2015, and when it does, its library will be named for Kryzan, a Buffalo environmental attorney who became very close to Wadsworth during the 2008 congressional campaign. Kryzan died of cancer in June 2012, and her family asked that donations be made in her name to Wadsworth’s charity.

That’s just part of the money Wadsworth has raised in between her half-dozen extended stays in Africa the past few years. A form filed with the IRS showed that the Girls Education Collaborative raised $116,402 in 2012, and Wadsworth – who works out of donated space at the Jaeckle Fleischmann & Mugel law offices in Amherst – expects to exceed that amount this year.

Most of the money has been raised from individual contributions from the Buffalo area.

“We’ve received a tremendous amount of support,” Wadsworth said. “We’re calling it the City of Good Global Neighbors.”