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Indian River school raises money for a Kenyan well

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PHILADELPHIA — Penny by penny, students at Indian River Intermediate School raised more than $5,000 to build a community well in Kenya through Free the Children’s Drop by Drop program.

When fifth-grade teacher Donna M. Donohue brainstormed gift ideas for her classroom, she wanted to get something that would make more of an impact on her students than erasers and pencils. With $200 to spend, she and her students looked at the website of Free the Children, an organization the district used in the past, to buy a goat and a year’s worth of water for families in other countries who need these “gifts” to live.

When a previous student suggested she use the money to buy a well, Mrs. Donohue was flabbergasted. The students began to get excited about raising money toward the expensive project.

Through the organization, a community well is $5,000. The schoolwide effort to build the well started Jan. 6.

Through bake sales, raffles, book sales and water bottle sales, the school was able to rake in $5,402.77 by Thursday afternoon.

Three teachers signed up for a head-shaving raffle; the teacher who got the most money was to have his or her head or beard shaved June 1. Approximately $700 came from a school sale that charged 50 cents per used book. Even more money was expected to be raised by the end of this week.

To celebrate achieving the goal so early, Principal Lana J. Taylor shaved the heads of fifth-grade teacher Kyle C. Clark and Assistant Principal Brian A. Moore during an assembly Thursday.

This fundraiser was more than the children bringing in their nickels and quarters, however. Mrs. Donohue’s class wrote business letters to bottling companies to get water donations for the school.

All the students signed a pledge to graduate from high school. The pledge stemmed from a South Asian child, Iqbal, who was sold into slavery to pay for his brother’s wedding. He escaped and began speaking out about child labor but was killed at only 14 years old.

Free the Children was formed when co-founder Craig Kielburger, 12 at the time, read Iqbal’s story in the Toronto Star in 1995, according to http://www.freethechildren.com.

In addition, seven of Mrs. Donohue’s students went to the Indian River Central School District Board of Education meeting May 17 to show a presentation of how women in Kenya walk two hours each way several times a day to get dirty river water for their homes.

“We’re doing as much as we can to empower the kids,” Mrs. Donohue said.

It’s working. Many of her students want to do more charity work now that their appetites have been whetted.

The class was surprised to learn that only one in six people throughout the world has clean water to drink. That helped to changed their perspective.

“Everything can’t just be handed to you, and you have to work for what you need,” said fifth-grader Savannah Lanier.

Classmate Graciana K. Rodriguez agreed. “We’re lucky to live in America, because not everyone has what we have,” she said.

Several years ago, the district’s primary schools sponsored schools in Africa and China. According to www.freethechildren.com, building new schools would have cost $8,500 each.

Mrs. Donohue said the extra money will go to Free the Children and may go toward another well or goats, trees or health kits.

“I feel that everyone getting involved was just so beautiful,” she said. “I found out that I can’t do everything by myself, but we can make a difference together.”

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