The Nigerian School Project: The Film


Tonight at Dawn and our crew are working on the third phase of filming for The Nigerian School Project documentary. Here are some images from filming at founder of The Nigerian School Project Dena Grushkin’s home with the talented Michael Scotti and Neil Grabowsky (Jersey Nerds). Kickstarter video coming soon!





Fading #Hashtags

Kimberly Cecchini

#BringBackOurGirls was the rallying cry all over social media this past spring.

Now? The girls have not been seen again, the perpetrators are onto even more heinous crimes and Twitter is onto #Seahawks and #BlueMonday.

Boko Haram militants rang in 2015 by viciously attacking towns in northeastern Nigeria, including the densely populated municipalities of Baga and Doron Baga. Although Nigeria’s Director of Defence Information claims the death toll is around 150, Amnesty International argues that the numbers are gruesomely higher based on eyewitness accounts and satellite imagery.

"Before (2 January 2015) and after (7 January 2015) satellite imagery shows the extent of damage in Doro Gowon following the Boko Haram attack." Amnesty International
“Before (2 January 2015) and after (7 January 2015) satellite imagery shows the extent of damage in Doro Gowon following the Boko Haram attack.” Amnesty International

Daniel Eyre, an Amnesty International researcher, explains the information gleaned from the satellite shots, “These detailed images show devastation of catastrophic proportions in two towns, one of which was almost wiped off the map in the space of four days.” Eyre continued, “Of all Boko Haram assaults analysed by Amnesty International, this is the largest and most destructive yet. It represents a deliberate attack on civilians whose homes, clinics and schools are now burnt out ruins.”

Victims’ reports to the nonprofit detailed the militants going from house to house to murder military age men, indiscriminate shooting at people of all ages and the rounding up of women, children and elderly folks as they fled into the bush which was dotted with corpses. According to Amnesty International, Boko Haram has been known to assault areas they believe to be collaborating with security forces and this may have been their motivation this time as well.

Overall, Amnesty International has estimated 2,000 people massacred in this latest assault.

So why has the 16 killed in the Parisian terrorist attacks at Charlie Hebdo and the market peppered our news, while many are more likely to be aware of the Nigerian assault via a Facebook post? Of course 16 people killed is 16 too many as 1 killed is 1 too many. Whether it is 150 or 2000 people killed, isn’t it 150 or 2000 people too many?

I suppose 2000 is unfathomable in the human mind.

Based on theories I heard from On the Media, Amnesty International and the Huffington Post, I am trying to understand why this is not a major headline in the Western news cycles. 

1-Unfathomable. It’s a difficult thing for the psyche to swallow this level of atrocity in a place that can feel very far removed from their own lives.

2-Too Close To Home. An attack in Paris, a city that is culturally similar to cities in the United States, and an attack on the democratic ideals for freedoms of speech hits close to home; Americans feel on edge in line with the French.

3-All Quiet on the Eastern Front. President Goodluck Jonathan swiftly and sharply condemned the terrorism in Paris, and, yet did not offer similar condemnation in honor of his own citizens.

4-Sensitized. Folks in the Western world are often not surprised to hear of conflicts in the Middle East or Africa and become sensitized to it. In addition, they often do not see a connection to their own lives as they see it with the Parisian attacks. “All too often, conflicts have been assumed to be localized, just left alone until they reach a pitch where they show their international significance,” said Michael Jennings, a senior lecturer in international development at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London (Huffington Post), “The danger is that we don’t see the links, we don’t see people moving back and forth.”

5. No Press Access From Boko Haram. At the present moment, it is near impossible to receive independent reporting from the attack sites in Nigeria as it is still under Boko Haram control; reports are mostly based upon eyewitness accounts and images from the sky.

Of course, there are hashtags for the freshest atrocity in Nigeria, but there must be other ways to TRULY show that “#NigerianLivesMatter”.

Nigerian School Project on the Cover of Millennium Magazine

Featuring Dena Floryczk’s photography; Nigerian School Project article by Tonight at Dawn founder, Kimberly Cecchini, as published in the June 2014 issue of Millennium Magazine (listed on the cover).  Read the article and see more photos! : tuned for the posting of Cecchini’s other article in the issue, “Pig & Prince: Restaurant & Gastro Lounge”.





The Nigerian School Project: Going Full Circle

Text by Kimberly Cecchini/Photography by Dena Florczyk

To learn more about and support NSP at and

Dena Florczyk. Nigerian School Child

Dena Florczyk educates students in two hemispheres.  The middle school teacher in suburban Teaneck, New Jersey has aided numerous education programs and has had a school built in Nigeria.  Her recent exhibition at the Stable Art Gallery in Ridgewood celebrated a decade of work in Africa through the photographs she has taken during her visits.  The show also served as a fundraiser for her nonprofit, the Nigerian School Project.  The pieces are not only  a reflection of her photographic talents, but also the evolution of her relationship with the country.

Through an opportunity with another nonprofit in Teaneck, Dena originally traveled to Nigeria’s commercial capital of Lagos with the interest of an educator.  She was shocked by what she saw.  The disparity between the wealthy and the impoverished is vast and obvious; “It is not an easy place to live.” Public classrooms typically overflow with sixty or seventy students and contain zero books.  Among many things, she observed kids sharing pencils and as many as ten growing boys sharing seats built for three.

Dena initially met with local teachers and asked them to write a wish list of supplies, imported box loads of pencils, helped to sew uniforms, taught workshops to juvenile offenders and created a small yearly cycle of modest fundraisers at home. Friends and family have also joined her on some trips to engage and teach local students. In addition, she undertook larger projects such as building school libraries and orchestrating a book drive.

Dena Florczyk. Workshops for Juvenille Offenders in Nigeria

“Oh my god, he wants me to build him a school.”

Following a friend who was working on malaria clinics in the region, she took a boat out to Tomarro.  Upon reaching the shantytown “suburb” of Lagos, she was overwhelmed with a cacophony of noises and smells.  There she discovered that the fishing community’s children are counted as fortunate if they had at least been enrolled in one of the area’s few elementary schools.  Unfortunately, that’s also where their education usually ended; it is too expensive for them to take a boat over to the commercial capital.

Soon after her arrival in Tomarro, the bali (the tribal king’s brother), who had learned of her work in Lagos, led her out to an open lot. Standing on top of a heap of dirt, he asked her to build the community’s first middle school. She was not prepared for this daunting request, “I’m just a little school teacher from New Jersey.”

Despite the immensity of the task, the Nigerian School Project embarked on its grandest venture with the help the help of a financial benefactor and a local pastor.   On that lot now stands the “Ibadan Public School,” a six classroom block with her name inscribed on the plaque beneath the school’s name.

Dena Florczyk. Opening Celebration for First Intermediate School in Tomarro, Nigeria

“On the Map”

Tomarro’s people, who had felt ignored by their state, are truly proud of the establishment; they celebrated the opening with lively masquerades, drumming and dancing.  Locals spoke about how the school put them “on the map” and legitimized their community.  Now they can envision new opportunities for their children.

Even though the government shuffled its feet to fulfill their obligation to fund the operation of the school for two years, the  school did not remain idle during this time.  The townspeople formed committees and hired teachers to ensure that the prospective pupils did not have to wait to enroll.

Going Full Circle

Dena is currently awaiting updates and pictures of The Nigerian School Project’s newest endeavor.  The high school will provide an opportunity for Tomarron children to have a complete education and, along with university scholarships, it will represent a full circle for Dena’s work in Nigeria.

In such a tough environment, scholarships don’t necessarily mean success, but The Nigerian School Project has already been able to help one young man, Suru, to complete his education with a college scholarship.  You can see her motherly pride as she speaks of Suru who she has known since he was a young school boy.  Now a Nigerian naval officer, Suru is also one of her trusted Nigerian connections when she is in the States.

The Dance You Do

“I don’t have that edgy, aggressive behavior because I don’t want to step into a situation like that,”  Dena refers to the dance that she does between wanting to capture a situation and not wanting to be intrusive.

Although she loves to photograph, it is not Dena’s priority when she is in Africa.  She accepts that some people consider her images to be too pretty; she’s simply attracted to the lines and colors of a scene and does not seek to exploit the rawest moments.

Dena Florczyk, Uganda

One of her favorite photographs is one she took in Uganda; she loves the movement of the potter’s wheel and the playfulness of the children within the composition.  Smiling, she remarks how “they just want to play.”  Her photographs do not ignore the poverty and difficulties that plague these areas, but they do not dwell on them either. “People are very proud regardless of their circumstance…they are very proud of who they are and their culture, fiercely proud, and I don’t want anyone feeling that I’m judging that.”   As an intimate observer, she elevates the youth she photographs and conveys what she sees in them; engaging, smart motivated students and sometimes, just simply, children.

Whether its her photography or the schools that she has had built, this little school teacher from New Jersey empowers the voice of the young through sincere portraits and the civil right of literacy.

To view more of Dena’s photographs and to learn more about or support the Nigerian School Project, please visit

***UPDATE***  “The Nigerian School Project is thrilled to announce the completion of the first high school on Tomarro Island.
Walls are painted! Desks have been built! 
All that’s missing are textbooks.”-Dena Florczyk
Please contribute to
Dena Florczyk with Nigerian School Children

New Posts are Brewing

Text & Photo by Kimberly Cecchini

It may seem as though Tonight at Dawn is on a bit of a hiatus, but I am feverishly working on new posts. This weekend, in addition to covering the festival for Millennium Magazine, I am also a proud member of the Montclair Film Festival photo and blog teams and am running around the town to cover incredible films and fascinating conversations. Here are some of the posts that you can expect over the next week or so:

-Reposts of my photos and blogs on the Montclair Film Festival from conversations with new late night host, Stephen Colbert to Kevin Smith to an incredibly diverse array of inspiring documentaries and entertaining films.

-Interview with my colleague, Dena Floyrzk, who is an incredible photographer and now the founder of two schools in Nigeria.

-Interview with Indian author, Vinay Rai, on his book, Think India, and the state of his country’s progress as a developing economy.

-Interview with a New Jersey chef on his beautiful and ecologically inspired restaurant, Pig & Prince, as will be printed in Millennium Magazine.

Interviews to be slated for the rest of spring:

-Dr. McCabe, graduate professor and autism expert.

-Australian author of proposal for the rehab of orcas in captivity


John Lugizamo at the Opening Night if Montclair Film Festival 2014.