Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Elementary school kids raise money for a school in Africa

In a story that never gets old, some students in Huron Valley's Heritage Elementary school has raised nearly $2,100 to help students they may never meet face to face with the basic needs for a school. Judy Marx writes this story. 

Elementary school kids raise money for a school in Africa

The 610 K-5th graders at Huron Valley School District’s Heritage Elementary School have raised more than $2,000 to provide toilets and other necessities to a school in Kenya, Africa.

The project began when second-grade teacher Shonna Dolley returned from a family trip to Kenya last summer to visit the remote village of Ukwala, where her son-in-law’s 94-year-old grandmother lives.

 There is no running water or electricity in the village and 1,000 students attend the Yenga Primary School in Ukwala, in a dilapidated building with only 12 teachers, a few seats, no desks and eight latrines.

Dolley’s photos and stories of the village and students were so compelling that Heritage students immediately began planning what they could do to help the elementary school nearly 8,000 miles away.
At the request of Dolley and Heritage principal Deirdre Brady, Yenga Headmaster Joseph Ochieng listed several priority items needed for the school, including latrines, a well and a new classroom.

The Heritage Student Lighthouse Team immediately set the goal of raising $800 for eight new bathroom stalls and started a Change Drive for the purpose.

Student Michaela Kilano said that the parents thought the Change Drive was a great idea.

“Our goal was $800,” student Nathan Tebay, explained, “Some kids went into their piggy banks or got change from their moms and dads.”

“…or found coins under the couch cushions,” Jacob Sposita, a member of the student Heritage Data Team, which sorted and counted the money as it came in.

Only four days after the drive began, Brady announced the students had toped their goal with a grand total of $2,096.71. The additional money will be used to help the school with other needs.
Competition between classrooms was an incentive that helped drive the numbers up, but it was the enthusiasm of the young fund-raisers that assured their success.

“Our students have learned that they can change the world one moment at a time,” said Brady.

“They were appalled by what they saw and heard about Yenga School and took immediate action to organize a Change Drive. The project was totally student driven. They knew that everyone could put in at least a penny!”

 “If you really think about it,” said fifth-grader Elizabeth Piscopink, “we had to help them. We have so much and they have so little. Their most precious possession in the school is a broken-down cabinet, where they store books that are falling apart.

“These kids are like us in a lot of ways,” Elizabeth said. “They play soccer. The girls like to make bracelets. But they need so much. They don’t even have a playground.”

Yenga families pay tuition so that their children can attend school, where they begin to learn English in the fifth grade. Possibly a few will be able to continue beyond elementary school.

The school’s headmaster said his students are amazed that people in America know about them and want to help them. He said he is hoping people from Michigan will travel to Yenga to see for themselves that their dollars are being spent in the right way.

In the fall of 2011 Heritage Elementary became a “Leader In Me” school, embedding Sean Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People into all aspects of life at school.

A cultural shift occurred as students became empowered to take ownership of their academic work, behaviors, and leadership roles in the school.

This year, Habit 8 — Find Your Voice, was introduced. Students are now empowered to speak up for themselves and others and stand up for what is right.
The Student Lighthouse Team agrees and hopes that other schools in Michigan will want to partner with them to help Yenga. The 5th graders are considering whether they would want to build a classroom or a playground next.

Those interested in finding out more about the Yenga project, can contact Brady at