Robert Fenster travels to Africa and commits to change


courtesy of Robert Fenster

History teacher Robert Fenster in Africa climbing the Wara Wara Mountain with new friend, Ali.

Shani Vasquez, Op-ed editor

Just having returned from a rather exciting trip over this past winter break, history teacher Robert Fenster tells all regarding an excursion of a lifetime.

During an educational summer program, Fenster attended a program which introduced him to The Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance, and Abolition. Twenty teachers residing in the United States were chosen to be paired with teachers from different portions of Africa. Fenster was chosen to partner with Emmanuel Thomas, a teacher to more than 70 children in Bo, Sierra Leone, a country in West Africa.

Thomas himself received a higher education due to a fund his uncle passed on only to him. It was a great privilege that he cherishes every day, and wishes to pay it forward and be that ray of sunshine in his students’ eyes like they are in his. Alongside that fulfillment also comes a great responsibility to uphold his family name as the only one of eight to have gone to college.

To take in the scope of the land, Fenster and dozens of locals climbed the Wara Wara Mountain as part of the program, where hundreds of years worth of history awaited at the top. There, lay ruins of the natives’ ancestors’ houses, places the people had escaped to elude the slave trade poachers in the 17th and 18th centuries. As Fenster described, he very well could have been the first white person the residents had ever laid eyes on, much less been in the presence of.

“Hands down the most amazing thing about the trip was meeting people who lived in terrible poverty and have endured some of the most awful tragedies including diseases, child soldiers, blood diamonds, and civil war,” Fenster said. Fenster saw how the students remained positive about their futures despite severe obstacles and how welcoming they were to foreigners.

Luckily enough, a number of students at Thomas’s school had cell phones. A few of their numbers were passed on to Fenster, who then paired them with his own students. All written interactions were done through WhatsApp, an app powered by Facebook which allows easy communication between citizens of different countries. 

Furthermore, after having spent the duration of the trip with Thomas, Fenster discovered the rampant overcrowding occurring in Thomas’s classrooms. Learning of this poor situation, Fenster knew he had to do something.

In order to lend a hand to Thomas’s growing class and limited supplies , Fenster decided to organize a fundraising campaign here at HHS to assist the children and provide them with the necessities needed to receive a well-rounded education. With the money raised, Fenster wishes to have educational materials printed for each student. To raise funds, an alumni concert is being held at 7:00 p.m. on March 9 in the auditorium to support his new friends in Sierra Leone.

The fundraiser is called Boro4Bo and there is a site in which people can donate to the cause, get tickets to the show for $10, and purchase t-shirts for $15. More information can be found at at the fundraiser’s official site

“Although it’ll just be a drop in the bucket, any money that we raise will have a profound impact on these students,” Fenster said. “It became personal once I made connections to my new friend, and in a larger sense, to the people of Sierra Leone and their indomitable spirit.”