During fourth grade, Alexandra Beharry-Yambo and her mother Michelle Beharry had the sudden realization that they were doing a disservice to their community and the environment.
Rather than throw away used supplies that had potential to be upcycled, the two decided to do something to combat their waste and help improve students’ quality of education.
“Education is also a really big issue, or the lack of education, actually,” Alexandra said. “It’s not just not having the access to school, it’s about not having access to the materials to be able to be accomplished in school. That’s kind of overlooked at times.”
It wasn’t until Alexandra was in fifth grade that her mother came up with the idea of donating used school supplies to teachers in Guyana. Their first donation drive consisted of used school supplies from Franklin Academy Charter school’s fifth-grade class in Pembroke Pines.
“It was honestly really shocking just how good quality all the supplies were,” she said. “Everything was such a high quality that it could be reused for years.”
The first donation inspired the eventual creation of Used Tools 4 Kids.
“That’s when we had the idea to keep doing it,” Alexandra said. “We thought: If we did it on a bigger level, we could get even more [donations] and help more people.”
Once they became an official nonprofit organization and created the board last February, the mother-daughter team asked Patricia Cantore to act as their public relations officer. Cantore was Alexandra’s fourth-grade Spanish teacher.
“I love helping people so much, I’m so happy they called me to do this,” she said.
Struggling with how quickly the organization was growing, Beharry wondered if the new responsibilities were worth the trouble. As the president of Used Tools 4 Kids, Beharry oversees donation shipment, tracking and communicates with teachers in Guyana.
“Because we’re aware of all this stuff going into the landfill,” Beharry said. “It’s almost as if you can’t turn a blind eye now — because we know.”
Since its inception, the nonprofit has donated to 25 teachers in various schools throughout Guyana, Beharry said. Their last shipment to Guyana was 6,000 pounds.
“I’ve learned just how much there is a need for things like this that I never really realized before, that I think a lot of people don’t realize,” Alexandra said.
Schools in Guyana with teachers that have received donations are Lachman Singh Primary and The Gifted Hands Learning Center for Children with Special Needs. They both found Used Tools 4 Kids on Facebook. On a whim, primary school teacher Alicia Isaacs emailed Used Tools 4 Kids, hoping its post about free donations wasn’t a scam.
For her students, Isaacs was willing to take that risk.
“At the end of the day, I like to see my kids happy,” she said. “When they leave my classroom, I want them to feel like they have accomplished something, as well as myself.”
Since receiving school supplies from Used Tools 4 Kids, Isaacs has noticed improvement in her students’ learning capabilities.
“Every lesson I actually had learning aids for my kids, which got them more interested,” she said. “They got to paint and cut and paste because of the donations. They enjoy it a lot. It’s very new to us.”
It is common for teachers in Guyana to pay for school supplies on their already limited salary. The Ministry of Education provides school supplies at the beginning of the school year, but they rarely last long, said Marcia Smith, founder of Gifted Hands Learning Center for Children with Special Needs.
“Used Tools 4 Kids is a blessing in disguise,” Smith said. “It’s not anything we expected to receive. I am so grateful for the little things because otherwise, I would have had to go into my own pocket.”
To optimize their reach and reduce the imbalance of resources between other nations, Used Tools 4 Kids plans to donate to entire schools in Guyana, rather than individual teachers.
By donating to an entire school, the donations can be used consistently by students from grade to grade. This would also stop perpetuating need onto more students in the long run, Beharry said.
“It may be less schools, but at least it’s a balance and it continues it from the first grade right through to the last grade,” she said. “Without us really stopping to look at what we’re doing, we could be creating a broken system in a system we are really trying to help support.”
In its fifth year, the organization will seek to broaden its reach to Guatemala, Venezuela and Title 1 schools in Broward County. Title 1 schools are schools that receive federal grants to create a program that ensures a fair, equal and positive school environment for students who come from low-income families. These students are more likely to have a low-academic performance, according to Broward County Public Schools.
“I’m excited to see how we will be able to help other people in different countries,” Alexandra said.
For Smith, the donations she receives only highlight the inequities between Guyana and the United States.
“There is so much being wasted in the First World, when us in the Third World are still waiting to receive it.”