Change for Haiti: 5th Graders Making a Difference

At the end of last year, I received a grant from Arts In Stark to take one of my storytelling programs to the 5th graders at Stinson Elementary in Canal Fulton. One of the things that I love about telling folktales from around the world is the chance to get students interested in other cultures, and while I know that storytelling alone can do that, this time I wanted to take it one step further. I wanted to give the students the opportunity to get involved in making a difference overseas and to see how they can have an impact.

I spoke with 5th grade teacher Amy Lower about the possibility of doing a fundraiser in conjunction with my performance. The proceeds would benefit Haiti, which was also the country of origin for the folktale I’d be telling. I told her about my involvement with an organization called Haiti Partners* whose mission is to help Haitians change Haiti through education. They have a “Change for Haiti” campaign which allows students, teachers and parents in American schools to connect with schools in Haiti. Amy checked out the website and immediately jumped on board, spearheading a two-week fundraising campaign/competition amongst the 5th graders in the weeks leading up to my performance.

On May 14th, the date of the performance, the campaign closed, and I’m excited to announce that the students raised close to $500! The best part was to hear about the enthusiasm they had for the project. Amy said that her students took the project and ran with it, setting a high goal right from the outset! She had printed out a list from the Haiti Partners site that showed what different amounts of money could purchase in Haiti (ex. $1 can send a child to school for a day, $125 provides a teacher’s salary for one month, etc), and the students knew exactly what their current donation level could afford and were eager to add to it!

I had wanted the US students to be able to get a taste of Haiti and talked to my friends at Haiti Partners about the possibility of doing a Skype call where the students could see and communicate with students in Haiti; however, due to the inconsistent nature of internet connections in Haiti, my friends thought this might not be the safest option. They did however say that they could make a short video to thank the students and to give them a tiny glimpse into one of the schools. The video was filmed at their newest school, Children’s Academy, and shows some of the youngest Haitian students who are looking toward a bright future through the generosity of people like the Stinson 5th graders. You can see the beautiful video here: Change for Haiti

I have no way of knowing how this experience will affect the 5th grade students in the future, but I am grateful to have had the opportunity to help build a bridge between two countries and cultures and to give students here a glimpse into life outside of North America. It is my hope that it will not be an experience that they quickly forget, and that it will remind them that there are lots of little ways in which we can make a difference in the lives of others. I am blessed to have been able to work with a teacher as dedicated and caring as Amy. She went out of her way to make the campaign a success, and it wouldn’t have worked without her diligence.

I hope to be able to continue this type of work in the future — pairing my storytelling with fundraising campaigns that open up doors of education for children around the world. If your school or organization is interested in partnering in such an undertaking, please let me know.

Students pose with their Change for Haiti fundraising canister

*Back in May of 2010, not long after the devastating earthquake in Haiti, I won a writing contest which earned me a trip to Haiti to get a first-hand look at the work of Haiti Partners. For me, the highlights of this trip were staying with a Haitian family and having the chance to tell stories at two different Haiti Partners schools, one of which had been destroyed in the earthquake but has since been rebuilt. I remain in contact with the great people at Haiti Partners as well as the family I stayed with, and I hope that in the future I will be able to return to share (and learn) more stories!

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