SAD 51 students raise money for children in Zambia

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NORTH YARMOUTH — Although wearing hats in school is typically frowned upon, North Yarmouth Memorial School will make an exception on Friday, Feb. 18.

Students will be allowed to wear hats – if they pay a dollar. The funds will be used to help build a school study room in Zambia.

When they chatted online with children from the South African country last September, Maggi Alexander’s students were astonished to peer from their classroom into one thousands of miles away.

For the past six years Alexander, a fifth-grade teacher at North Yarmouth Memorial School, has involved her students in an effort to help Zambian children who have lost one or both parents. The endeavor was sparked when Alexander’s sister, Linda Wilkenson, started the Chikumbuso Women and Orphans Project in 2005.

Wilkenson, whose husband works for the World Vision organization, was in Zambia and “just saw a need for orphaned children to get schooling,” Alexander said.

Chikumbuso means remembrance, and the project was triggered by the impact of AIDS. At first a project geared toward widows, it has expanded to embrace orphans through a free school, as well as providing outreach to grandmothers and offering skill training to single mothers.

The program is based in Ng’ombe, in the Zambian city of Lusaka. The school started with 30 students and now has more than 10 times that number in kindergarten through sixth grade.

Alexander and her students at first raised funds for the project through a recycling program. They now raise enough money to send $180 a month to the school, $80 for food and $100 to pay a teacher’s salary.

And when Alexander heard about her sister’s desire to create a study room at the Zambian school, she decided to help that funding effort, too. She has asked students and staff throughout the school district to participate in the hat-wearing fundraiser, and she has approached companies about matching the money her school raises.

Alexander said she would like to raise $2,000.

The connection between the two schools is broadening through a pen-pal program and blogging. Alexander’s students write about books they are reading on a website with both the Zambian school and children from a school in Connecticut.

And there was the day last September, when the North Yarmouth and Zambian schools communicated via Skype, able to see each other face to face, classroom to classroom. Two of Alexander’s students, Matt Donahoe and Kelsey Sullivan, were fascinated by the experience, although they had trouble understanding the Zambian youths at times – not because of language, since they speak English, too, but because of delays in the Internet signal.

Donahoe and Sullivan both said the experience has been their favorite part of fifth grade and that they look forward to learning more about their new friends.

“It feels good to help someone else in a different place,” Sullivan said.

Donahoe noted that while American students sometimes grumble about going to school, their Zambian counterparts enjoy the experience, particularly since it’s a place where they can get food.

“School is like their favorite time of the day,” he said. “When the bell rings, they’re sad.”

Alex Lear can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 113 or alear@theforecaster.net.

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Kelsey Sullivan, left, and Matt Donahoe, fifth-graders at North Yarmouth Memorial School, are taking part in an effort to raise money for children in need at a school in Zambia. They use the Internet to bridge the distance between the two schools.

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A Maine native and Colby College graduate, Alex has been covering coastal communities since 2001, and currently handles Bath, Topsham, Cumberland, and North Yarmouth. He and his wife, Lauren, live in the Portland area, and Alex recently released his third album of original music.