The Generosity Of Schoolchildren

Susan Page
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Wednesday - October 05, 2005
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A sea of restless 12- and 13-year-olds sat shoulder - to - shoulder on the gym floor at Glenview Senior public school in Toronto, Canada, eagerly awaiting the speaker. Music blared over the PA system as the AV guy tried to get all the cords, plugs and switches to cooperate with the overhead projector for the impending power point presentation. Finally, the program was ready to start.

“Do you think your school made a difference last year?” Janine Maxwell asked the students. A large number raised their hands.

Indeed they had made a difference, and Maxwell, founder of a charitable organization called Hopes and Dreams Team (and the friend I was in Toronto to visit), showed them how. In the year since she had introduced orphans from Kenya to these students via photos and stories, considerable progress had been made - as she likes to say: one child at a time.


“Do you remember Lillian?” Maxwell asked as she produced a heartbreaking image of a skeletal child onto the large screen. Hands quickly went up. In 2003, when Maxwell and Kenyan workers from Mully Children’s Family Orphanage found Lillian laying inside a filthy hut made of garbage waiting to die, she was 8 years old and weighed 12 pounds. Her parents had both died of AIDS.

Literally in the nick of time, Lillian was brought to the hospital and treated for malnutrition so severe she was, among other dreadful things, blind.

The next slide showed a healthy looking, full-faced child with smiling, glistening eyes that can see. “This is Lillian now,” Maxwell proudly announced. And there was more good news: Lillian’s two older sisters, who thought she was dead, were also rescued from the streets and brought to the orphanage.

Now, back to how the kids from this school in Toronto helped.

1) They had a “penny drive,” collecting $1,600 that went to the building of another dorm for the orphanage that could shelter up to 100 children.

Then, they had an underwear drive. A what? Huh?

“How many of you have never had a new pair of underwear?” asked Maxwell. Only one hand way in the back went up - there’s always at least one smart aleck. “These children have never had a new pair of underwear.” Maxwell put up a slide of orphan children proudly holding up undies.

2) Actually, last spring the kids at this school had a dance at school and the deal was, if you brought a pair of new underwear you got $2 off the price of admission. Four hundred pairs of brand new underwear were sent to the Kenyan orphans! For the fall dance, they did the same thing only with toothbrushes.

3) They sold jewelry: beaded necklaces made by the grandmothers and other volunteers in the orphanages in Kenya Maxwell brought back to Toronto. That effort brought in $2,000 for the orphanage building.

4) This year they’re selling those rubber bracelets that say Glenview4Africa.

At the beginning of the presentation, Maxwell gave out staggering - no, depressing - statistics about the HIV/AIDS crisis that is in Africa - the same ones I have written in this column. These bear repeating in light of our country’s recent natural disaster in the Gulf Coast where close to 1,000 people died last month, and the tsunami of last December where 225,000 perished, and a war in Iraq and Afghanistan where about 2,000 American soldiers have been killed in combat or war zone accidents. The numbers put into perspective how uneducated the developed world is when it comes to real human crisis.

In Africa, which has 70 percent of the world’s HIV/AIDS cases, approximately 356 people die every hour of HIV/AIDS - 8,544 people every day. Every twenty-six days, 225,000 people die of AIDS in Africa, about 3 million a year. Fifteen million young children are living on the streets today, orphaned due to AIDS. The World Health Organization (WHO) predicts there will be 43 million by 2010.

These sixth- and seventh-graders “get it” when Maxwell asks if one person can make a difference. And each of them steps up to the plate - because they “get it” that theirs are so full. Helping one hundred children in one orphanage in one city is not so impossible.

If every school in Hawaii, America, and Canada - oh, heck, the rest of the civilized world - would do what this one little school in Toronto has done, each coming up with its own creative ideas, there would be more Lillians, more rescued orphans, and more healthy African children who can one day make a difference, too.

What is your school doing? Write me and tell me.

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