Pen pal project connected kids from Tucson to Africa

2014-05-21T00:15:00Z 2014-05-21T09:55:12Z Pen pal project connected kids from Tucson to AfricaBy Perla Trevizo Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star

Learning about others and extending a helping hand is what drew Daniel Cardenas into the pen-pal school project with children from Africa.

“Maybe one day you will need help just like them, and maybe they can help you,” said the 10-year-old as he decorated a picture of one of the children from Kibera, one of the largest slums in the world with about 1 million residents.

More than 750 Tucson Country Day School students took part in a yearlong effort, which included sending letters to students in Kibera, outside Nairobi, Kenya, filling a suitcase with crayons, pencils and other school supplies donated by the students and their families, and which is culminating this week with the art project.

Most of the students in Kibera don’t have pictures of themselves — many have never even seen themselves because there are no mirrors, school officials said. So as part of the Child to Child Project: Sharing Kindness With Kibera, the students decorated and framed pictures of their pen pals, glued on purple cloth, with their names to be sent back to Africa.

Part of the Common Core standards is to push children to think globally, said Terra Maddock, a fifth- grade teacher at Tucson Country Day School. “We thought, ‘Let’s do something with another country and try to be pen pals.’ ”

Through word of mouth, they heard of someone who worked in Kibera who came to the school to talk to the children about life in the slum and the importance of education.

What struck Hunter Fiore, 11, the most from the visit was that guest Charles Nderitu told students he was 18 when he owned his first pair of shoes.

“It made me feel sad,” the fifth-grader said, “because when you don’t have shoes until you are 18 you are stepping on the hot ground and your feet are burning.”

She also wants their classrooms to be bigger. The students saw pictures of 30 to 40 of their pen pals wearing their blue-and-red uniforms crammed into little classrooms with dirt floors and walls made with metal sheeting.

Even after the project is done, Hunter said, she would like to keep helping people because she gets a “tingly feeling” in her body that makes her happy. And one day she would like to visit Africa to see what it’s like over there and work with people.

Maddock said she’s seen her students form long-lasting relationships across the world.

“I have seen how generous and thoughtful my students can be,” she said. “It’s proven that it’s really more about giving than getting.”

And along the way, they also worked on teamwork and writing, and learned to communicate better with one another, she said.

Contact reporter Perla Trevizo at or 573-4210. On Twitter: @Perla_Trevizo

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