Walnut Park students spare some change for peace

The students of Walnut Park have put together a special gift for children of third world countries, and it started with spare change.

The students of Walnut Park have put together a special gift for children of third world countries, and it started with spare change.

The student body has been steadily collecting pennies throughout the year to support the Pennies for Peace campaign, run by the Central Asia Institute.

Founded in 1996, the institute was co-founded by Greg Mortenson to continue his work promoting education in Northern Pakistan.

Since then, 170 schools have been built in Pakistan and Afghanistan by the foundation. One provision is that girls are sent to the school, not just the boys. The regions he supports are so urban they don’t usually see outside funding.

“So the hardest, most remote places to get to,” Pauline Mahoney said. “That’s where he focuses on building.”

Mahoney is the one who has been coordinating the Pennies for Peace campaign in Smithers after reading the book Three Cups of Tea, and who was thrilled to receive over $100 from the children of Walnut Park, who have been collecting the one cent pieces throughout the school year.

For Walnut Park, the campaign fit perfectly with what they were already trying to teach, teacher Irene Williams said.

Each fall, they choose a theme for all grades to follow revolving around social responsibility. Last fall the theme was the power to be kind: so to be kind to oneself, others, and others far away.

“We decided Pennies for Peace would be the perfect venue for doing the power to be kind far away,” Williams said.

Going through the children’s version of Three Cups of Tea while partaking of rice, a  staple in Pakistan, the children were really invigorated, and in the next week collected pennies.

Some, Williams said, scoured the streets for those lost and left unclaimed while others traded in their allowance. One kid, she said, had already been collecting pennies for most of his life and brought in a huge jar for the cause. A jar, she said, that contained just over $50 worth of the copper coins.

“That was really, really cool,” Williams said. “A penny might not seem like much, but look at what it buys over there.”

A single penny, for example, would purchase a pencil, 15 pennies would be a notebook, $5,000 would operate an existing school for one year and $50,000 would build and support a new school for five years.

The $100 that Walnut Park provided will supply maternal healthcare supplies for one year.

But this support is more than that, Williams said. In addition to the collecting of pennies they’ve been reading about these kids that are helped by these funds, and looking elsewhere, such as Japan.

“It helps children realize there are people in need around them,” Williams said.

Hopefully, as they grow up they’ll take that view with them, Williams said.

What’s nice is that all funds raised go towards building new schools or funding new schools, Mahoney said, as the institute funds the administrative side of things.

“Each penny that they raise goes to these schools,” Mahoney said. “That’s really empowering and exciting for the children.”

Overall, it’s been a great campaign, Williams said, who happily turned over their collective funds two weeks ago, shortly before the end of the school year.

“As a teacher what I want them to realize is that even though they’re young, they can do something,” Williams said. “That they can make a difference. This made them feel like they made a difference.”

For those who would like to help, either by providing a donation of their own or by setting up a collection jar at work, can contact Mahoney at 250-877-7737.