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Haiti earthquake teaches third-graders what wealth means

Haiti, February 12, 2010

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    Melissa Sanders  </span>
    Third-grade students at Woodland Primary School in southwestern Washington State, including young Jordan, have raised more than $4,300 for Haiti through a penny drive and online fundraising. Photo: Melissa Sanders

The day after the earthquake, third grade teacher Melissa Sanders brainstormed with her colleagues about how to get their students involved in the Haiti relief effort. A penny drive was a natural — they’d done it before — and so they began having children announce daily reminders on the school intercom.

Meanwhile, Sanders wove lessons on Haiti into her standard curriculum. “We used an almanac to look up basic facts about Haiti,” she said. “We talked about the corruption and poverty there, and how difficult life was even before the earthquake. We shared photos from the media. And the children…well, they were just devastated by the stories.”

“They talked about how awful it would be to lose your parents, to be an orphan, to be in the street with no one to care for you, when the people who are supposed to be able to help you are also in need of help themselves,” continued Sanders. “They were wowed each time we heard about someone who had been rescued.”

Most children at Woodland Primary, in southwestern Washington State, are not from wealthy families. “A lot of our kids are on the free lunch program,” explained Sanders, “and some of them emigrated from Mexico with their families. They remember what it’s like to have to walk a long way to get water.”

The children talked with their teacher about what it means to be wealthy. “We talked about how we sit here in class and all our needs are met,” continued Sanders. “We talked about how people who are considered poor in this country are rich by Haiti standards. And we talked about how wealthy you feel when you have the capacity to help care for someone else.”

True to their feelings, the kids gave — and gave generously.

“They literally brought in their piggy banks,” said Sanders. “They put in their Christmas money. One boy who had received $10 from his aunt for winning an academic competition just dropped in the bill — he didn’t think twice. That’s a lot of money for an eight-year-old. And when the other kids saw his generosity, well, everybody just got out their money.”

The children’s big-heartedness added up. Between their penny drive and the Personal Fundraising Page their teacher set up, they’ve raised $4,311 so far to support Mercy Corps’ work in Haiti.