Students collect money to build schools in western Asia
At a time when some businesses are trying to eliminate the penny, because they are considered a nuisance, Ahern Middle School sixth graders are seeking the one-cent copper coins.
In fact, a group is collecting pennies and spending afternoons coutning and rolling them, hoping to reach $500 to send to the Pennies for Peace program started by Greg Mortenson, author of the book “Three Cups of Tea.”
This all came from the sixth grade Social Studies curriculum, where students delve into world geography and cultures. They learn how geography and climate can affect both economic and lifestyle conditions for people.
When it came time to study West Asia, teacher Carol Horta, who recently read “Three Cups of Tea,” suggested teachers and students become involved in Mortenson’s charity that helps build schools for children in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
The book came about because of Mortenson’s 1993 failed attempt to reach the summit of the world’s second tallest peak, K2. He ended up in the tiny remote village of Korphe, situated high in the Himalayas. Horrified by seeing children at “school” crouched on the ground and using sticks to write in the dirt, Mortenson returned to America consumed with the idea of building a school in the town that had rescued, welcomed, and nurtured him back to health.
According to his web site, his first step was to send out 589 letters to celebrities, businessmen and prominent Americans. He received one reply: a check from Tom Brokaw for $100.
But Mortenson was not to be discouraged. As his web site says, “When he left the village, he promised that he would return to build them a school.” That was because, as his book title says, he had become a part of the village family.
According to a Pakistani village chief, “With one cup you are strangers, with two cups you are friends, and with three cups you are family.”
Hearing the author, visiting a Wisconsin elementary school, explain what a penny would buy in Afghanistan, a boy in a fourth grade class stood up and offered his piggy bank savings of $62-plus dollars in pennies. Thus was born the idea of Pennies for Peace, which is an arm of Central Asia Institute. To date, according to the web site, the organiztion has built 78 schools and helped 28,000 students of which 18,000 are females.
Various web sites related to the book offer not only ways to contribute, but also information about the original book and two later books more recently been published — one geared to young adults and another, “Listen to the Wind,” written with the very young child in mind.
Mortenson’s idea has certainly spread, reaching right here to the United States, where it appears the penny is often no longer very welcome.
Pennies are more than welcome at the Ahern School, where students hope to turn them into schools for their counterparts in impoverished parts of western Asia.
(c) Foxboro Reporter 2009