Brookwood Elementary students donate funds to vaccinate African village
Brookwood fourth-grader Jane Christensen brought in some of her own money to help vaccinate children in Mali so they could attend school. (Julie Slama/City Journals)
In 1987, Brookwood Elementary held a fun run so students could help raise funds for Discovery Elementary School in Mali, Africa. Twenty years later, Brookwood students have re-engaged with their Mali counterparts by donating funds to help vaccinate children so they can attend school.
During the last week of March, Brookwood school children brought in contributions to help “vaccinate a village.” For every $5, a child in Mali could get vaccinated for nine life-threatening illnesses, said Principal Corrie Barrett.
The vaccinations are against polio, yellow fever, measles, tuberculosis, diphtheria, hepatitis A, vitamin A deficiency, the flu, and tetanus.
“We’re hoping our students understand that there are kids who aren’t as fortunate as they are and we all can make the world a better place by five dollars at a time,” she said.
When students brought in $5, they received a paper doll figure to put up on a bulletin in the front hall, showing the “village” they were helping to vaccinate, which will help break the poverty cycle, said Heidi Poelman, Brookwood Parent-Teacher Enhanced Minority Leadership coordinator.
“The children there want to attend school, but they aren’t able to since they don’t have vaccines,” she said. “But they don’t have money for the vaccinations so it’s become difficult for them to receive their education in the impoverished village.”
Poelman said the school goal was to reach $500. The first day of the campaign, 218 Mali children were being helped by the $1,294 that Brookwood students contributed.
“Our students are really excited and have learned how blessed their community is when they’ve learned about children on the other side of the world aren’t as lucky. We’ve empowered our students to make a difference,” she said.
While some students are performing odd jobs or asking family and friends for money to donate, others are raiding their piggy banks.
Fourth-grader Jane Christensen brought in $10, some of her own money and some from doing chores.
“When I learned how important it was to vaccinate the kids in Africa, how could I not help?” she asked.
Jane and other students at Brookwood learned about life in Mali through the Utah nonprofit group Ouelessebougou Alliance, which gave students a presentation about the village of Ouelessebougou in the fall. They also left some common village items, such as a wooden mask worn at ceremonies; cloth painted from mud from the Niger River; talking drums used to convey messages; a toothbrush made from the Gessi tree; and a doll made of scraps of twigs, metal, tire, wire and fabric found around the village, for the students to look at through the year.
Brookwood students also learned about typical life in the village.
“The girls there usually cook over a fire, get water from a river, take care of younger brothers and sisters and don’t get to go to much school. They sleep on grass mats and when they do have time, most kids like to play basketball and soccer,” she said.
Anounou Sissoko, Ouelessebougou Alliance field director in Mali, visited the students and gave an interview for Bear TV, the school’s broadcast, said student Ellie Poelman.
“He’s really funny and laughed a lot,” she said. “He said that the schools there don’t have any glass windows and the floor is made up of clay and hay. He said that they live in such a poor place, they get sick and often die by their fifth birthday since they don’t have vaccinations. By getting to know the people there, we want them to know we care and want them to have a better life.”
Ellie said that even though Brookwood students don’t speak the same language as those children in Mali, they are communicating with one another.
“We sent them some pictures we drew of ourselves and our families, what we like to do, where we live and Anounou will deliver them and have them draw us some in return,” she said.
The school also donated art supplies to the Ouelessebougou school, Poelman said.
“The students are learning about their culture from the art exchange, from the artifacts, listening to Anounou,” she said, adding that they have a bulletin board with Bambara language phrases as well as what it’s like in the village on a typical day.”
PTA volunteer Mariah Christensen said that she hopes that by being involved in this exchange, students will appreciate their good fortunes.
“I hope they get a vision of a broader world and realize that different parts of the world don’t look like East Sandy,” she said. “I hope they are confidence that even by donating five dollars during a one-week fundraiser, they can make a great difference. By working as a group, they’re helping save lives and that can give them a perspective that even small acts of kindness will impact others every day.”