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Fifth graders are heroes for a good cause

Sadie Green-Clark’s family knows more than a bit about sustainability. The Shelter Island 5th grader comes from a tradition of sustainable farming that helps support her immediate family and her grandparents.

It’s why she was attracted to the Heifer Project, which provides a means of providing food and building lives that ensure a secure place to live, educational opportunities and the promise of brighter futures.

“We have a lot more stuff here,” Sadie said, explaining one reason she wanted to help people less fortunate than herself.

Sadie is among students in Michele Yirce’s class who read Katherine Applegate’s “Home of the Brave” this semester, learning that throughout the world there are people who can’t take for granted many ordinary amenities — regular meals, safe and secure housing, a free education.

The story follows Kek, an African youth who lived with his mother, father and brother, but only he and his mother survived ethnic cleansing in the Sudan that killed other family members. When his mother disappeared, he was relocated to the United States, and would have to face many adjustments while waiting for word of his mother’s fate.

The book was judged a Bank Street Best Book in children’s literature in 2008 and remains a favorite among students.

Through inspired class discussions Ms. Yirce had with her students, all wanted to do something to help those less fortunate, something that would have a true impact.

Over the course of two weeks, the students raised $1,000 to support Heifer International, a program that can provide families with the means to start small businesses such as selling wool, milk, eggs and other products.

Another arm of Heifer International provides trees for planting that provide food and nourish soil; irrigation pumps that ensure potable water and the life’s blood of plant growing; bio-gas stoves for cooking; and much more. Contributions not only ensure food, but help protect health through improved sanitation.

The third program Heifer sponsors is a women’s initiative. It recognizes that in some countries, men have the resources not available to women to build their own sustainable futures.

“If women farmers had access to the same resources as men, more than 150 million additional people would have enough food to eat,” according to Heifer International’s website.

The students set out to raise $150. They surpassed that goal by a simple method: They asked family and friends for contributions and even parted with some of their own money.

Cayman Morehead had $130 he was planning to use to buy food at Maria’s Kitchen. Instead, he donated the money and found that while most of it did go to the Heifer Project, he received $20 back for himself.

Wilson Lones reached out to attendees at his church who generously contributed. He had visited Honduras in the wake of a devastating hurricane and saw what it was to suddenly have nothing. He saw the impact the gift of chickens, a goat or a cow could mean to a family and the community.

Jamel Saunders, after reading “Home of the Brave,” realized there are children in other countries who can’t go to school because their families lacked tuition money, something not necessary in the United States thanks to a system of public education. As an African-American, he said he was moved by the fact that help was going to help Africans.

Ms. Yirce pointed out that in some countries, if a family lacked enough money to send all its children to school, boys would be educated and girls wouldn’t.

Evan Weslek said he realized there were people around the world not only without a single day’s reliable and nourishing meal, but those who had practically nothing their entire lives.

Nathan Sanwald said it felt good to raise money to help those who didn’t have “nearly enough” to sustain them.

Ari Waife learned from the book there were people who lacked nutritious food.
More than a few lacked safe houses, Abraham Roig said.

When you know those things, it’s not hard to ask people for contributions, Kaden Gibbs said.

“So many people in so many places don’t have a lot,” Ben James agreed.

Natalie Fernandez noted that people sometimes don’t contribute to causes because they think the amount they can afford won’t make a difference. But even a single dollar or some change you can spare adds up, she said.

Kyra Sciacchitano was able to raise $29 just from coins she collected.

“It’s really important to give money to people who don’t have stuff,” Dulce Carbajal said.
Summing up the experience, Ms. Yirce quoted the late author Maya Angelou: “When you know better, you do better.”