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The International Writers Magazine: Making a Difference

Radnor students reach beyond borders
• Michele Gaston
The Pen Pals and Popcorn Club at Radnor Middle School, Radnor, PA, raised over $5,000 in contributions in February to fund the building of a bathroom at the Bupala Primary School in Uganda, Africa The money also will also help to provide lunch to the impoverished students at the school.

Uganda kids

“Absolutely hands down, nothing I’ve ever done in the classroom compares to the excitement of opening a package of letters from Uganda with our names on them,” said Jodi Sabra, sixth-grade language arts teacher and head of the pen pals program at Radnor.  “It’s phenomenally thrilling.”
Through the pen pal exchange, the students at Radnor learned that the Bupala school day goes from 7:30 a.m. – 5 p.m., and discovered that students often go through an entire day without a meal.  In some cases, pupils feel they have a better chance of eating something if they stay home than if they go to school.
“Imagine being a child and having to make that choice,” said Sabra. “Do I go to school, or do I stay home so I can eat?  I cried for months after I returned from BPS. There is no stuff, they have nothing.”

Through the pen pal letter exchange, Radnor students find out that there are no doors on the few bathrooms that exist in the school and, as a consequence, some of the young women drop out due to privacy concerns. Furthermore, students are not even allowed to attend school if they do not meet the requirements of having a uniform, pencil, and copy book.
“Unfortunately, not having a basic item such as a pencil is enough to keep a kid out of school,” Sabra said. “The school is just 4 brick classrooms with no windows, no doors and no electricity.”

Because all kids should have access to a nutritious meal and the absence of bathroom doors is a violation of kids’ basic human rights, Radnor students rallied to raise funds to feed the youth at BPS and to build them a new bathroom, complete with doors. 

Through initial fundraising efforts, which included bake sales, popcorn sales and donations, Radnor students collected about $2,300, but were not satisfied with that amount.  The students knew they needed to raise at least $5,000 to successfully fund the building of the bathroom and to provide lunch for the students at BPS for several months. 

“They yell no, no, no, it’s ridiculous to stop at $2300 when we need $5,000, we committed to this and we’re going to finish it, right?” Sabra said, commenting on the response from Radnor students.

Through the fundraising efforts of the pen pal program at RMS, the new bathroom at BPS is fully functional and up-to-date and enough funds have been raised to provide lunch to the 500 school students for the next four months, at a cost of $125/week.

“It’s amazing to see how much a little can accomplish in Uganda,” Sabra said.  “A little bit of attention, a little bit of money, can make a tremendous impact.

Sabra traveled to Uganda for the commissioning of the new bathroom, a ceremony attended by local politicians, school directors, parents, teachers and village elders. 
“As I ride through the villages, the children and other family members giggle and wave when they see the white lady,” said Sabra.  “Mazunga, Mazunga, they yell with joy and excitement, making me feel like a celebrity, like Michael Jackson”

Sabra said she felt humbled by the appreciation and genuine warmth from the villagers and emphasized that she feels responsible for finding innovative ways to make the schools in Uganda better.  She said she was honored to represent the pen pals at RMS and the entire Radnor community.

“This is about the extraordinary power of a group of students who want to make a difference,” Sabra said.  “It is about following their lead, it is their inspiration.”
© michele gaston

Read more about the Pen Pal exchange here

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