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Littleton-based foundation still helping African village

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By The Staff

It has been more than 10 years since Omar Dia was gunned down at a bus stop in downtown Denver by two skinheads. The shock and anger over the hate crime led Coloradans to an outpouring of donations and support for Dia’s widow and children and the people of his village of Diorbivol, Senegal.

And a Littleton-based foundation, along with some South Jeffco high school students, is keeping that effort alive.

Kevin Miller, his son Eric and other volunteers from the Denver-Senegal Humanitarian Foundation continue to provide school supplies and aid to the impoverished village.

Dia was working in downtown Denver in 1997 as a bellhop at the Hyatt Regency and had been sending money to his family and his village when he was shot and killed.

The Millers and other volunteers formed the nonprofit organization after an outreach trip to Diorbivol in 2003 to continue the relief efforts.

Foundation trips to the region have delivered much-needed school supplies to the children of the village and helped with technology to provide irrigation to crops and electricity to homes.

“It’s about reaching out and helping others,” Kevin Miller said. “There is a connection that they recognized that it’s a small world and that we are all in this together. That’s what motivated us to start this organization, which is really about sustainable support in a developing world.”

In November 2007, Miller, his son, Myriah LaChance, her father, Tony, and Theresa Neuroth, vice president of the foundation, traveled to the village to deliver school supplies. The group worked with African native Mohamadou Cisse and his nonprofit African Heritage Celebration. Cisse served as the liaison during their visit, when they stayed with Dia’s family.

The villagers welcomed the group with open arms, crossing a river to meet them and gathering around the American visitors and singing songs to them.

“One of our goals is to improve the education in the village,” said volunteer Myriah LaChance, a 17-year-old senior at Dakota Ridge High School. “We brought school supplies to the fifth-graders of the village so they would have the means to study and get the education that they need.”

Eric Miller, 18, also a senior at Dakota Ridge, said one of the main priorities decided upon when talking with the village elders was to build a middle school because the children can’t continue their education past the sixth grade.

“If a child wants to continue their education, they have to travel to another village and live with another family,” Miller said. “A middle school will help make education more accessible in the village.”

The long-term plans of the foundation and the villagers are to continue making upper-level education more available to the children, and after the middle school is built, plans will continue for a high school and beyond.

The foundation raises money in part by selling breakfast burritos and conducting school and church donation drives.

“We sell the burritos every three to four months,” LaChance said. “We are looking into other ways to raise money, but the burritos help with the school supplies and are how we took the trip to Africa. They sell for $2.50 each or nine for $20,” she said.

Kevin Miller says the foundation raises $2,500 to $3,000 each time the supporters sell burritos, but they are also looking into things like silent auctions and organizing a summer golf tournament to raise additional funds to help with the new school.

The foundation is also working with other organizations such as PRODAM (the agricultural development project in Matam), an organization of the United Nations that provided a water pump so the villagers could irrigate crops and a propane tank for energy.

The foundation is also working to bring electricity to the village and help with water purification and storage needs.

“It makes you more grateful for what we have in America, such as clean running water that is available, a food source, education, health care and electricity," Eric Miller said.

Kevin Miller said receiving school supplies is like Christmas for the children of the village. On the November trip a presentation ceremony was held in which the children received the donated supplies.

“There was one girl who was crying, and we couldn’t figure out why,” said Myriah LaChance. “Through a translator, we figured out that she was crying because she had never gotten anything before.”

Plans are under way for a 2009 trip to the village, when the main focus will be working with the locals on building the middle school. The foundation will sponsor fund-raisers to help furnish the new school with desks, textbooks and other supplies.

To learn more about the Denver-Senegal Humanitarian Foundation or how to make a donation, visit http://dshf.org.