By Dr. John Velasquez and Ashley Festa

Members of Project Africa stand with Marcos Fragoso (from left), vice president for international affairs, artist Felix Valle, Dr. Louis Agnese and Dr. John Velasquez (kneeling) at the hanging of a painting Valle donated in the International Conference Center. Dr. Agnese purchased the painting, and the funds went toward the organization’s $32,000 goal.

Project Africa, one of the university’s newest student organizations, has been a dream in the making since Cisse Drame was born.

Drame, at the time a UIW psychology undergraduate, approached Dr. John Velasquez, UIW associate professor of psychology, in May 2009 to ask for help. Her mission: to build a school in Mali, Africa.  Because her parents were willing to sacrifice on behalf of her education, Drame believed that she should do something to give back to her home country.

Soon, the fledgling student group secured partner BuildOn, which has constructed over 300 schools worldwide since 1993, to take the lead of building the school, while the students worked toward their fundraising goal of $32,000 to finance the project.

Drame gained support of UIW students who appreciated the international scope of the project. Through creative fundraising efforts including auctions, college nights at local clubs, art shows and dinners, Project Africa gained momentum. By Spring 2010, the group hosted an art show on campus with the help of local artist and entrepreneur Gichi. They were also invited to appear on KENS-TV’s “Great Day SA” morning show to tout their efforts and gain support for their cause.

After a successful first year, the group had raised $11,000. Project Africa was rewarded by UIW’s Student Leadership Association and Campus Activities Board.  The group won awards for” Best New Organization,” “Most Charitable Organization,” “Most Consistent with the Mission,” and “Best Event of the Year.”

By the end of the group’s second year, Project Africa had raised $25,000.

“Project Africa likes to act locally and think globally,” said Stephanie Rodriguez, vice president of the student organization.  “In all our fundraisers, we always seek to involve the community, students and professors at Incarnate Word and reach out to other people to participate in local events we create to raise money for a cause outside the San Antonio community.  But, we also… show that despite the fact we are raising money for a school in another part of the world, Project Africa members care about their own community as well.”

By June 2011, Project Africa had raised the full $32,000 to build the school. The organization is now working toward raising money to help cover costs to travel to Africa.

Plans for the school include three classrooms with drainage and lighting systems. Students will learn basic literacy and math skills, and the Ministry of Education of Mali will provide teachers and school supplies.

And the real impact in Africa? About 30,000 children in Mali will be educated over the lifetime of the school through the efforts of UIW students.

And that is priceless.

If you would like to make a donation to help pay for Project Africa members to travel to Africa and help with the building of the school, please contact Dr. John Velasquez at or 210-829-3960.

Find more on the history of Project Africa on the Facebook page.