Small Acts

Small Acts

The Journey to the Fifth Anniversary of Pencils for Africa



Shannon Sutherland


Recently, I have had several fruitful conversations with Mr. Ajania about Pencils for Africa (PFA), the community he and Ms. Weitzman have built over 5 years, which I have had the honor of being part of. I have noticed a few very important and consistent themes:

The power of small acts, and the deeper connection between our communities, and others outside our communities, that we interact with. Five years ago, when Ms. Weitzman and Mr. Ajania started a small group with some young schoolchildren who were uninformed about Africa, it was a small act. They began the modest sized PFA group simply to address the misconceptions rampant in our culture about Africa, and to educate and enlighten students like me about the rich cultures, the vast diversity, and the inspiring potential of the African continent.

Small Act: The first PFA meeting 5 years ago, in November, 2012.

If you look in from the outside, that seems so insignificant doesn’t it, compared to the work of large scale organizations like Doctors without Borders or the United Nations?

To merely enlighten the minds of a handful of young children in Marin County, California, surely cannot change the world, right?


My two mentors were well aware of the potential of a small act and the change it can bring about.

They knew of the everlasting ripples of change created when one throws a small stone of education into a vast lake of ignorance. Pencils for Africa, our humble group, grew into a vibrant global community. Our community in Marin decided to expand from simply educating about Africa to participating in Africa through conversations, fundraisers, and projects. We have created a strong and resilient community.

The ripples do not stop there.

Shannon (left), PFA Elder Paola (center), Akili Dada’s Purity (right)

Our PFA community in Marin has connected with groups such as Akili Dada in Kenya and Bicycles Against Poverty in Uganda, who work to create a positive impact on the continent of Africa.

We connect with these organizations through school fundraiser donations that support their causes.

We have conversations about poverty, education, and lifestyles. However, our communities are linked through more than just school bake sale fundraisers and the occasional Skype call.

We are linked through our shared beliefs and ideologies about the world and about Africa.

Through this deeper, immeasurable bond, we are able to join forces as communities in our fight to learn, grow, and to give a hand up: to offer people the opportunity to be self-sufficient.

A few years ago, we began another series of small acts.

We began working on interviews and stories for the PFA website under Ms. Weitzman’s mentorship of helping students like me improve our writing skills.

These small acts grew into a larger body of writing which my co-authors Carly, Lucia, Ella, Charlotte and me, compiled into the book, “What is Smart?”.

Our next step as a community is to host the PFA Film Festival, a community gathering to view the film Liyana, have some conversations, and learn from each other.

Yet another small act, this film festival will bring inspiration, motivation, and knowledge we will carry forward with us to channel into our work.

Ms. Weitzman’s and Mr. Ajania’s small act of creating PFA, transformed into a force for change.

Now, Mr. Ajania has embarked upon yet another journey forward by initiating yet another small act:

Opening a prototype Smart Library in the Kibera slums of Kenya.

This small act, will multiply into a franchise of Smart Libraries in slums across the African continent.

A network of Smart Libraries in Africa will be another excellent example of the power of small acts.