Students walk in Bucks For Education in Malawi
Students of Buckingham Elementary School have always been a pretty generous bunch. Even still, they managed to shock one of their teachers, Courtney Wood, when they donated $7,000 to service projects in Africa.
Four months after proceeds were raised through participation in the Walk for Education, the fifth grade teacher can’t say enough about the generosity of Buckingham’s youth. “I was really impressed,” Wood said. “In the past years we’ve raised maybe $3,000, but this year they raised $7,000, which I was just blown away by.”
For the three-mile walk, held on May 13, Buckingham Elementary fourth- through sixth-grade students sought financial sponsorship from family and friends and then donated the proceeds to service projects conducted in Malawi, Africa.
“It’s a really neat opportunity for them to relate to the kids there – to feel how far some of those kids have to walk over there to go to school or to get water,” Wood said. Spearheaded by the Volunteers for International Development and Aid(VIDA), the projects included assisting with the construction of a school for first and second graders, installing solar power on a preexisting school and running a medical clinic.
VIDA is a finalist in the Best New Charity category of the third annual Classy Awards, the largest philanthropic awards ceremony in the country. The ceremony will be held Sept. 17 in San Diego, Calif. The organization’s school fundraising coordinator, Wood became “hooked” on taking part in VIDA’s outreach missions after participating in Ghana service projects in 2009 and 2010. “It’s an amazing experience,” she said. “We have so much here – so much that it’s easy to take it for granted. “It’s really nice there, in different ways than here. I’m not staying in five-star hotels, but just being there and experiencing their lifestyle and the people – it’s just really meaningful.” Past proceeds from the Walk for Education, which is organized by Wood, have benefited the construction of an orphanage in Ghana. This year, however, Wood facilitated a partnership between VIDA and her cousin’s nonprofit organization in Malawi.
Seven volunteers, including Wood, visited the country June 18 to July 1. During the trip, volunteers assisted in the building of a school for students in the village of Kahelele. Photovoltaic controllers, donated by Morningstar Corporation, were installed in a neighboring community, enabling students to work and study into the evening. Dr. Alvin Wang of Temple University Hospital, along with two medical students, provided care to approximately 250 patients over a two-day span. Patients walked long distances, some as many as 10 miles, said Wood, to receive medical care. Wang and his team treated people with arthritis, malaria, malnutrition, upper respiratory infections and fungal problems. They also administered antibiotics and medication for indigestion and acid reflux.
The medical clinic was run in affiliation with Temple University School of Medicine. Medications were donated through AmeriCares and by a Philadelphia pharmacy; however, a portion of this year’s Walk for Education contributed to the clinic’s operations. “Ultimately because of the students we were able to fund the entire school project and all the medical supplies we needed for the clinic,” Wood said. The new school in Kahelele replaces a rundown building made of mud, sticks and grass, and will feature two classrooms. Kahelele has 180 students in first through fifth grades, and of those children, 80 to 100 will use the new building, Wood said.
Money raised by Buckingham students paid for the most expensive building materials – tin sheets and timber for the roof – as well as cement for the bricks. The school will be finished by the end of summer. Buckingham students also created an alphabet book for Kahelele students, complete with drawings and messages that both schools could relate to. Led by two sixth graders, students also collected more than 600 pencils for students; 30 reusable grocery bags for children to carry their belongings in were also sent to Kahelele.
Wood, whose students collect soda can tabs and ink cartridges for money to donate to the Ronald McDonald House and programs in Africa, knows it’s not unusual for her students to help others, yet their goodwill continues to impress her. “I’m always really amazed at how generous they are,” Wood said. “When you ask them to get involved in something, they want to do as much as they possibly can. They like having the opportunity to reach out and lend a hand.”