During a study of North Africa, my seventh-grade students and I viewed the award-winning documentary Facing Sudan in which we met Salva Dut, a former “Lost Boy” of Sudan. We learned that Salva, after relocating to the United States and nineteen years of separation, heard that his father was languishing in a United Nations clinic in Sudan. He had contracted a water-borne illness and faced death. Salva, determined to save his father and others who lacked access to clean drinking water, formed a nonprofit organization, Water for Sudan, which has since changed its name to Water for South Sudan. The sole purpose of the organization is to provide Sudanese with local, clean drinking water by digging wells. At the end of the video, I asked students what questions they had. I fielded a few, and then came the one that changed the climate of our classes for weeks, “Can we send them some money?” I will admit that I am not usually a fan of big projects. I feel like I end up working harder than my students. But this time, it felt different, so I persevered.
What followed wows me even as I write. These twelve and thirteen-year-old students brainstormed fundraising ideas because they wanted to make a difference in the lives of people thousands of miles away. I finally had to stop them and ask that they list their ideas for me to read over the weekend. I teach four social studies classes, and in each class, the same phenomenon happened. Young people thought of others instead of themselves. And in fourth period, a young lady hit on a winning idea: braided bandanna bracelets. The art teacher donated a box of fabric, and the craftiest kids taught us how to cut strips and braid them into bracelets. Several students bought bandannas and made their bracelets with that fabric. We worked at home and after school until we had hundreds of bracelets.
We took time out of class to learn and rehearse proper salespersonship and asked four teachers to help us with our sales. The idea was for students to sell bracelets to the rest of the student body during the mornings the following week. Each class period provided salespeople for each day, and I assigned them to work alongside a teacher on duty at strategic locations throughout the school. I kept a chart on my white board delineating the amount each class period earned each day in donations and sales, and a friendly competition ensued. They were so excited to get to school in the mornings to check out the sales board!
These students, seventh graders, set their sights on sending $500 to Sudan. Do you know how much they raised? Over $1600! They were floored. We were able to buy three hand pumps for wells, mosquito nets, de-worming tablets and measles vaccinations. And when I polled my students on what they liked best about the project, they overwhelmingly replied, “Really making a difference in the world.” My guess is that at the end of the year and for years to come, our unit on Sudan will be what my students, my compassionate students, will be what they remember. And maybe, just maybe, they will continue to believe in and act on the knowledge that they can really make a difference in the world.
Kendal blogs at a spacious place