Mt. Airy activist improving lives of kids in Africa

by Len Lear
Posted 2/12/21

Luke Klein, 46, who lived in Chestnut Hill for the first 10 years of his life and in Mt. Airy ever since, is a Quaker who puts his time and efforts and passion behind his beliefs.

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Mt. Airy activist improving lives of kids in Africa

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Luke Klein, 46, who lived in Chestnut Hill for the first 10 years of his life and in Mt. Airy ever since, is a Quaker who puts his time and efforts and passion behind his beliefs. His day job is Director of Operations for the The American Anti-Vivisection Society (AAVS), based in Jenkintown, an organization created in 1883 with the goal of eliminating certain procedures done by medical and cosmetic groups in relation to animal cruelty in the U.S.

“AAVS is particularly in alignment with my values,” he said in an interview last week. “I am a lifelong vegetarian (now vegan), and I have been actively concerned with the ethical treatment of animals for as far back as I can remember. AAVS is a wonderful organization, and I feel lucky to be a part of it. I love being in a vegan workplace, which must be rather rare.”

But animal welfare is not the only ethical issue near to Luke's heart. When he was visiting Senegal, West Africa, in 2003 he had an encounter with two little boys living in squalor on the streets of Dakar, the nation’s capital. “I have a clear memory of that moment that is captured in this photograph of the two boys,” recalled Klein, who had actually begun visiting Senegal several years earlier.

“My parents had spent a year teaching English in Zaire (now Democratic Republic of Congo) prior to my birth, and I had grown up hearing stories and seeing pictures of their time there; I suppose that probably planted the seed. In the mid-90s, I felt drawn to Francophone sub-Saharan Africa. Senegal seemed like the best fit for me. I was studying at Penn at the time, and so I ended up studying Wolof (the lingua franca of Senegal) there for a year, and I made friends within the Senegalese community in Philadelphia ... Finally, in 2006, my dear friend Mamadou Sow and I decided to start helping to provide school supplies to children in his native village of Kadiogne. And things have developed organically since then.”

With the help of Dr. Mamadou Sow, formerly a professor at Temple University who grew up in northern Senegal, Klein co-founded Kids of Kadiogne, Inc., a nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting the education and health of the children in northern Senegal, in 2006. Klein said that although Senegal has many of the ingredients necessary for future success, its stability is fragile.

Senegal is among the poorest countries in the world, with a median income of $1.10 per person per day. The country suffers from very high rates of infectious diseases, including malaria and meningitis. A major problem is that much of the population does not have access to clean drinking water, and half of the population does not have access to sanitation facilities.

Among their many projects over the years, Klein and Dr. Sow created Café Tapalapa in collaboration with a couple of young women studying at Penn at the time, Antoinette Zoumanigui and Selamawit Bekele. They managed the project in Senegal, which delivered thousands of nutritious hot meals to countless children in need, and local partners have continued the work. Antoinette and Selam moved on to develop even more ambitious projects, culminating in their being awarded the President’s Engagement Prize, which funded the creation of an agricultural vocational school in Mbour, Senegal.

Klein receives no compensation from Kids of Kadiogne, of which he is executive director. (Co-chairs are Dr. Sow and Phyllis Taylor, RN, also from Mt. Airy.) The non-profit relies mostly on volunteer efforts, both in the U.S. and in Senegal. “As we start our 16th year, our current model relies primarily on providing grants to trusted community organizations. We are generally just one of many sources of funding that organizations have, and we often provide funding for specific projects that an organization is undertaking.”

For example, just prior to the Covid-19 outbreak, “Kids” provided funding to an organization called “Mon Pays, Mon Avenir” (“My Country, My Future”) to organize an International Women's Day event of free medical examinations and testing, primarily for women. Hundreds of women (and some elderly men) attended the event, and the examinations and testing revealed 33 cases of colon or uterine cancer, four cases of HIV and 12 cases of prostate cancer. “These participants were grateful to be able to pursue treatments for their previously unknown conditions.”

And although it is a developing country, Senegal took the Covid-19 pandemic much more seriously right from the start than the U.S. Government. For example, according to a recent article in USA Today, Senegal has had 157 positive Covid-19 cases per 100,000 population compared to 7.245.9 cases per 100,000 population in the U.S., an almost 47 times greater rate in the U.S.! And Senegal has had 3.5 Covid-19 deaths per 100,000 people compared to 120.6 deaths per 100,000 people in the U.S., an almost 35 times higher rate of death!

“Kids” has also built the Emily D’Ancona Resource Center, which houses the first school computer lab in the region, and it provided new educational opportunities for students and teachers. The resource center is named after a beloved member of the Germantown Friends School class of 1993 and a native of Chestnut Hill, who died tragically in a car accident in 2008.

For more information or to make a donation to Kids of Kadiogne, Inc. go to www.kidsofkadiogne.org or call 1-844-KADIOGNE. Checks can also be mailed to P.O. Box 18983, Philadelphia, Pa. 19119.

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