Kids Collect Money for Schools Far Away
By Mateen Kaul
At James Bunker Elementary School, located in a quiet Newark suburb, a group of sixth graders jostle around a table preparing a poster seeking donations in pennies.
A couple of students carve out drawings of large pennies with scissors, while another glues them onto the poster. One comes up with the idea of pasting a stick on there as well, a tribute to the children in rural villages in northern Pakistan and Afghanistan who will benefit from this poster.
“We have all these supplies while they only have sticks,” says Sydnee, one of the sixth graders.
Their endeavor is part of Pennies for Peace, a learning program designed to broaden students’ knowledge of the world around them, and teach them the value of philanthropy.
Sydnee and her classmates are collecting money so their counterparts halfway across the world can have pencils instead of having to write with sticks in the sand.
“A penny doesn’t buy much here but over there it can buy a pencil, and a hundred pennies can pay a schoolteacher’s salary,” says another sixth grader, Marie.
Funds collected under Pennies for Peace go towards building schools in remote areas of Pakistan and Afghanistan.
The project is the brainchild of Greg Mortenson, a mountain climber-turned humanitarian from Montana who tells his story in “Three Cups of Tea.”
The book has been on the New York Times bestseller list for two years and has inspired communities across the country to start their own Pennies for Peace campaigns.
It also inspired the Fremont branch of the American Association of University Women (AAUW) to launch its own campaign in the Tri-City area. It began organizing in March, said Sara Hinkel, chair of the project.
After selecting and training coordinators responsible for the fundraising drive in each school, Hinkel said, the project kicked off in October and will continue until the Thanksgiving holidays.
“It’s been a lot of work but it’s really gratifying because now is when the fruits of our labor are coming in. It’s been great to hear how the students have reacted,” says Hinkel.
She approached Robert Chamberlin, principal of James Bunker Elementary, with the project in spring. He not only agreed to participate, but also decided to buy each teacher a copy of “Three Cups of Tea” to read over the summer.
The students appear equally keen on Pennies for Peace. One group of sixth graders is tasked with going to each classroom in the school to tell students about the program and gather the coins collected at the end of each week.
Caitlynn, one of the group, says kids often want to give ten dollars rather than pennies. Hinkel heard recently about a young girl who wanted to donate $50 that she had saved.
Chamberlin says the project is different from other fundraising drives the school has been involved in because its drivers are the children and not their parents.
“We are promoting the notion of helping others without reward and without the parents getting involved,” he says. “We’re putting it out there and stepping back, seeing where they will take it.”
Pennies for Peace also gives the students a chance to learn about the outside world.
“I think it’s fun for us to learn about what schools are like over there,” says sixth-grader Marie.
“The kids here can be very sheltered. This experience provides them with another porthole to the world,” says Chamberlin.
Twenty-seven schools in Fremont and eight in Newark are participating in the fundraising drive, according to Hinkel. Schools in Union City will start a similar drive in January.
Genevieve Angelides, who has been working on the AAUW campaign since the beginning, hopes they will have at least $10,000 to present to Mortenson when he comes to Fremont on March 3 to give a talk on his work.
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