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El Shaddai International's dreams have global reach

December 01, 2003|by DAVE McMILLION

charlestown@herald-mail.com

When the Rev. Ernest Lyles and his colleagues decided to start an organization to help students achieve their academic potential, it turned into a worldly effort.

Bothered by troubling statistics, including the fact that fourth- and eighth-grade students in West Virginia rank below the national average in math and reading proficiency, Lyles and a group of community leaders decided to do something about it.

Although El Shaddai International organizers hope to accomplish a number of goals, one of their main thrusts will be offering after-school tutoring programs to at least 50 percent of elementary schools in Jefferson and Berkeley counties, said Lyles, president and founder of the group.

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Their efforts are not going to stop there.

While the group is working to heighten academic performance in the Eastern Panhandle, it will reach to West Africa to meet public education needs as well, Lyles said.

Lyles has visited areas of West Africa where illiteracy rates have been high.

Through El Shaddai International, Lyles and his colleagues hope to build 10 schools in West Africa in an effort to strengthen the education system there.

Building schools in West Africa amounts to a fraction of the costs of building new schools in the local area, said Lyles, pastor of Asbury United Methodist Church near Shepherdstown.

The schools in West Africa, which will cost about $50,000 each, have about half as many classrooms as most local schools, Lyles said.

No heating systems are necessary in the West African schools and the schools will not have gymnasiums, Lyles said.

So where is the money coming from?

The organization already has held walk-a-thons and a gospel music jubilee, and there are plans to have similar events in the future to raise money for the group's projects, Lyles said. The group also hopes to find corporate partners who will match the amount of money El Shaddai International raises, Lyles said.

El Shaddai International is made up of 10 people, including George Rutherford, president of the Jefferson County NAACP, the Rev. Otis James of Mt. Zion United Methodist Church in Charles Town, W.Va., and the Rev. Ronald Paige, an Inwood, W.Va., resident and pastor of Mt. Olive Baptist Church in White Post, Va.

"I think it's doing very well. I'm very pleased with the foundation that has been laid," Paige said.

El Shaddai International plans to build a school in West Africa every year for the next 10 years, beginning in 2005, Lyles said. The first school will be built in Ghana, where the illiteracy rate has been about 28.4 percent, Lyles said. The second school will be built in Senegal, where the illiteracy rate is about 62 percent, Lyles said.

In Berkeley and Jefferson counties, Paige said he hopes El Shaddai International can work with school systems to identify students who need tutoring.

El Shaddai plans to branch out into various areas, including helping minority-owned and women-owned businesses succeed in West Virginia, and organizing college tours to encourage local students to attend college, Lyles said.

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