Scott Miller, CTV London  - Published Thursday, February 20, 2014 4:00PM EST 


Declining enrollment has forced the closure of many schools across Ontario over the past decade, with buildings becoming everything from appliance warehouses to training centres. Now a service group is finding a new use for what's left; old desks, chairs and books.

Brian Hall and Peter Twynstra, members of the Rotary Club of Grand Bend, recently checked over their most recent shipment of school supplies headed to Africa.

Hall says "This particular group of supplies came mostly from the Goderich area, but we've recently loaded a container in London that came from schools that were closed."

Brian Hall and Peter Twynstra, of the Rotary Club of Grand Bend, look over school supplies being sent to Africa in Exeter, Ont.Since 2009, the club has been gathering up unwanted desks, table, chairs and books from as many as 20 schools closed in Huron-Perth, Middlesex and Oxford County and shipping them to rural schools in Africa.

The current shipment, the 29th container in the Global Literacy Project, was loaded and sent earlier this month.

"When you see those happy children, sitting on chairs and using a desk and reading a book rather than having nothing, which is the common thing over there, it really brings joy to your heart," Twynstra says.

Shipping the surplus school supplies overseas works for the school boards as well as they don't have to pay to warehouse the old desks and the supplies get used again.

Wes MacVicar of the Avon-Maitland District School Board's Foundation for Education says "They go in the landfill. Do we really want that to happen? No. So it took the Rotary Club of Grand Bend to really take the bull by the horns and they're just leading the charge."

Hall and Twynstra say they couldn't do it without the Rotary Club in South Africa that receives and distributes the supplies, the many volunteers that load containers and the people that donate. It costs about $5,000 to ship the $150,000 worth of supplies in each container overseas.

And there is an appetite to expand the reach of the Global Literacy Project, to take unwanted supplies from schools across Ontario to Africa, Hall says.

"We're reaching out to clubs in Kitchener-Waterloo, Collingwood, Toronto."

Twynstra adds that he hopes the project means something good comes from the divisive issue of school closures, which has dogged mostly rural Ontario over the past decade.

"We're putting some salve on the wound of closing a school by finding another use for it. And that is truly a win-win situation."