Janesville third-graders reach out to South African orphans

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Anna Marie Lux
Wednesday, June 11, 2014

JANESVILLE—Third-graders at Jefferson Elementary School might be only 8- and 9-year-olds, but they already know how to make a difference thanks to teacher Jennifer Schrab.

Schrab got a grant earlier this year to learn about South Africa and to link her Janesville class with a South African group known as SizaBantwana. The nonprofit agency in Mpumalanga cares for vulnerable children, including orphans left in poverty by parents who have died of AIDS.

Schrab's students read about Nelson Mandela and the struggle to end apartheid. They looked at the parallels with the Civil Rights Movement in the United States. They became familiar with Desmond Tutu, Martin Luther King and Thurgood Marshall.

But something more intimate happened. Students met young people in poverty half a world away.

“Every one of us got a pen pal in South Africa,” 9-year-old Samuel Bess explained Monday, the last day of school before summer vacation.

In emails, children exchanged details of their lives, while trying to be sensitive to students who have few material things.

“My favorite animal is a husky,” Maleah Sawle wrote to her African friend. “Do you have a favorite animal?”

Students couldn't believe it when South African children wrote back.

“My favorite animals are the lion, zebra, buffalo and giraffe,” said a 14-year-old girl named Innocent. “But I have never seen one of those animals.”

The animals live at Krueger National Park, close to where the South African children live. But the children are too poor to afford a trip.

Many children at Jefferson school have their own financial struggles and qualify for federally funded hot lunch programs.

Still, they reached out to help.

Each student in Schrab's class wrote a persuasive letter asking for donations from Schrab's friends and family. Other students raised money through popcorn sales.

The goal was to raise $250 to buy supplies for South African children, but students in Schrab's class exceeded $1,000. Other students raised an additional $500 and donated pencils and pens.

Schrab will take three suitcases of school materials, toiletries and clothing when she travels to South Africa this summer. She also will buy supplies once she arrives. In addition, some money will fund a field trip to Krueger National Park for South African children.

Schrab also will bring a heartfelt video featuring her students. In the video, some children opened their homes to show what life is like in the United States.

During her 3-week journey, Schrab will make a video of South African students to share with Jefferson school students in the fall. She also will visit Soweto, where the uprising against apartheid began.

Much of Schrab's trip is supported by a Fund for Teachers grant, designed to enhance learning environments for teachers and their students.

Schrab beams when she talks about helping her students become what she calls “ethical world citizens.”

“They are incredibly mature, wise and caring,” she said. “They understand that you can affect change no matter how old you are or who you are.”

Trayvon Crain wishes he were traveling with his teacher.

“We know when we donate it will change lives,” he said. “I feel happy and proud.”

Like so many in her class, student Lucy Barnes has insight beyond her years.

“Even the little things you do can make a difference,” she said. “I will remember that.”

Anna Marie Lux is a columnist for The Gazette. Her columns run Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. Call her with ideas or comments at 608-755-8264, or email amarielux@gazettextra.com.





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