Uganda/New York Blog… by Amy Rosenstein

“I think the most interesting part was when the Skype call started and we had to wait because the kids were getting water from the well,” said New York third-grader, Jake.

Connecting cultures from one place in the world to another is a deeply powerful experience. Students learn about their similarities and differences first-hand, by meeting children across the world. Speaking to them, learning their language, singing songs, taking outdoor tours…All of this brings the reality of others immediately into the realm of our students’ own experiences. Reading about children in another country getting water from a local spring does not have the same impact as meeting, face to face through technology, the very children who just returned from that daily chore.

For the last eight years, my third graders and I have had Skype sessions with children and adults around the world, on every continent and over 30 countries. After one especially emotional session, my third graders met a group of children in the Kibera slum of Nairobi, in Kenya. As we sang songs together, and swayed in unison, it was difficult to keep emotion at bay. After the call, upon reflecting on the experience, I decided it was time to take the next step. How could my students not only learn about kids like these, but how could they help? And how could they help us? Learning about each other is fascinating and Skype sessions are clear steps toward understanding the world. But becoming social entrepreneurs by coming up with ways to make an immediate impact would surely lead to us becoming global citizens.

Three years ago, I was lucky enough to connect with Adam McKim, Executive Director and Founder of CHAT to the Future on Twitter as we began an incredible journey together. After partnering up with another third grade teacher and colleague in Ardsley, Alison DiGregorio, our students learned about CHAT to the Future and the children at CHAT House in Uganda. We came to understand the ingenuity and hard work that has gone into its development.

We spoke to our students about the opportunity of meeting children in the Ugandan orphanage and we brainstormed ideas of how we might be able to help them. For quite some time, the children there did not have indoor plumbing. They did not have an indoor toilet.

We arranged Skype sessions between the Ugandan kids, and our students in Ardsley, New York. (PBS Video). Our two classes partnered up with the Amnesty International Club at the Ardsley High School and along with the high school students, conducted a read-a-thon. Students collected sponsorships during a three week period. This all lead up to the day of our read-a-thon which took place on our school’s “International Day.” For 100 minutes, students read internationally focused books with the high school students, with administrators, with parents, with reading buddies, and independently. The time flew by, and after 100 minutes, students had earned their sponsorships.

Several days later, with a goal of $300 per class, we were hoping to collect $600. In the end, we raised $1,200! The following year, two more third grade classes in our school joined in and this year, during the spring of 2016, all seven third grade classes took part in the Skype sessions and read-a-thon, with a grand total of $2,187!

From a seed of an idea, can come something so great. Our kids have learned about jackfruit, aloe vera, and how to say “how are you?” in Luganda. But most importantly, they’ve come to understand that they can make a difference in the world. There’s no need to say that they’ll help people when they grow up. Why not do it now? And they did. And they will.

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