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August 15, 2003
Issue 8 
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Feature Article

PALO COMMUNITY SCHOOLS - MOHOMOU REFUGEE SCHOOL PARTNERSHIP

Judy Huynh, 6th grade teacher
Palo Community Schools

The 6th grade class at Palo Community School has been participating in a pen pal exchange with the Mohomou Refugee School since March of 2003. I first discovered RESPECT when I began taking an online class through iEARN. Marc Schaeffer wrote to me in the teachers forum and told me about RESPECT, and asked if I was interested in my students having pen pals from a refugee school. We had already been studying hunger issues in developing countries (my social studies curriculum covers Africa, Asia, and Australia), so we expanded it to do more study of refugee issues. We ordered materials from UNHCR, which we used in our classroom, and Marc sent us 23 letters from refugee students in Guinea, West Africa.

I read the first batch of letters aloud to my students and let them choose the one they wanted to write to. My students were pretty excited about writing to their pen pals the first time, but it was after they received a personal response from their own pen pal that they became very excited. The day the second packet of letters with photos came from Mohomou School, I passed them out right after lunch so they could read them and share. My students were really touched by the letters from their pen pals. They couldn't believe the troubles and sorrow their pen pals had experienced in their short lives. One of my students said, "Mrs. Huynh, he says the day he received my letter was the happiest day of his life!" To think that they had the power to make a difference in someone's life was an eye-opening experience for them. They couldn't wait to write back to their pen pals, and there was much discussion about what they could do for our new friends.

Samuel Boateng, the contact teacher at Mohomou School, had written to me and said some of the school needs were sports materials and story books. Many of the refugees had written about how they loved to play soccer, so my students decided we should send them some soccer balls. We have an international dinner at my school at the end of the year, which is coordinated by the 6th grade class. The money we make is donated to organizations helping to end hunger in the world. The refugee letters came shortly before the dinner, and my students voted to use some of the money from the dinner - up to $400 - to buy and send the soccer balls.

Samuel gave me an email address to correspond with him, and so I emailed him to tell him we would be sending them some soccer balls. I had an email back from him (he has to go to town to access email because there is no internet access in the school), and he was very excited about the soccer balls. He also wanted us to come and visit their school I ordered the soccer balls online, and they are due here this week. I will send them to Samuel as soon as I receive them.

Our relationship with Mohomou School has been so enriching for my students. We hope next year to collect supplies all year and possibly use all of the funds from our international dinner for Mohomou School. Our dream is to actually deliver the supplies to the school ourselves, and visit Samuel and our pen pals. I am looking for funding for a trip for myself and a couple of students to go to Mohomou School next year with books, school supplies, and sports supplies. I think this would be an awesome experience for my students and for the students in Mohomou School. We hope we can find someone who will partner with us and help make our dream a reality. It's possible! We are so thankful to Marc and RESPECT for giving us the opportunity to be involved in this partnership, and for Marc's continuing support through his emails. We will continue to work to raise awareness on refugee issues in our community.

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