By participating in the Grain of Rice Project (GORP), Batesville Intermediate School students involved in the Junior Ambassadors Program – consisting of 14 fifth-graders and 10 fourth-graders – are on a mission to help children around the world.

“Last May, Tory Flynn (Hillenbrand director of communications and public affairs) ... reached out to BIS to see if we were interested in partnering with them for the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals Book Club,” reported BIS media and instructional technology specialist Anne Amrhein, who along with media clerk Angie Moster are in charge of the Junior Ambassadors.

“We said yes! It seemed like – and turned out to be – a perfect way to promote reading, increase students’ knowledge base about real-world issues and provide them opportunities to develop collaboration and leadership skills. Hillenbrand has helped us get started by purchasing books for the book club portion of the program.”

“Last summer, Amy Ahiga contacted me because of my role as the school library media specialist and asked if I was interested in participating in the GORP read-a-thon last summer. (Principal) Dana Cassidy, Angie Moster and I felt that the read-a-thon fit in perfectly with the four SDGs that we are studying this year – no poverty, zero hunger, good health and well-being and quality education.”

The GORP was started with the idea that when people are given small opportunities, these pile up like grains of rice, spill over and, in turn, help others. The goal of a $500,000 fundraising campaign is to construct a K-8 school and teacher training center in Kenya, provide high-quality education for at-risk kids and impact them for generations.

Amrhein reported, “The way the read-a-thon works is that two-thirds of the money earned goes toward building the school in Kenya and one-third of it returns to our school. After reading the first book club selection, ‘Serafina’s Promise’ and learning about the setting of the book, Haiti, the Junior Ambassadors agreed to use that money to help children in Haiti.”

Brookville native Ahiga, who co-founded the GORP with her sister, spoke to the Junior Ambassadors and other BIS students who participated in the read-a-thon Nov. 18.

She said most people think it’s always hot in Kenya, but “the higher altitude weather is cold. When you go to the coast by the Indian Ocean, it is very, very hot.”

“When I went to Kenya for the first time, I noticed it was really, really dark. That’s because other places don’t have the same access to electricity that we do.

“When I went to the place where I was going to stay, guess what I found living in my kitchen? A chicken! It was very loud, and every morning it would wake me up. I asked, ‘How long is this chicken going to do this?’ I was told, ‘Until we eat it.’

“A chicken is a sign of respect. My husband is from Kenya and every time we leave, his mother gives away her chicken so we can eat it. That means she cares for us a lot.”

“Most people cannot afford to have their own cars. There are buses and they see how many people they can fit inside .... There are also minivans that can fit 15 people, but I have seen as many as 20 in there, which is very cramped.”

“Sometimes people think everyone in Kenya is poor and lives in huts, but some people live in cities. Cities like Nairobi have a mixture of sites. It may have a very busy area with cars and people. Then you turn the corner and there may be a market, where fruits and vegetables are not very expensive. My favorite is avocado, which is 10 cents. They also have passion fruit, mangos, papaya ... lots of good things and lots of juice.”

The speaker revealed, “Huts are not very common in Kenya.” She showed a picture of a house built with mud and sticks with a tin roof. “My husband is from central Kenya, where houses are made of wood and painted with tar .... If you don’t paint the houses with tar, termites will dig holes in them. When people get enough money, they build homes with cement.”

The GORP is located in the Kibera Slum. “There’s a lot of trash. In the slums, they have one room, and the buildings are made with mud and sticks. There are 235,000 people that live in a 1.5-mile area. That’s a lot of people ... (and) there’s no running water.”

“Every morning the kids get up. They have to be at school at 6 or 6:30 a.m. and stay there until 6 p.m. Before that, they have to pick up water that they pay for .... That’s all the water they get for the entire day.

“Think about your life right here. Every time you flush the toilet, you probably use this much water (that they have to make last the entire day). They use it to drink, cook, etc.”

“Usually, the houses have one or two beds and everybody has to share that space or sleep on the floor.”

“Kids are required to wear uniforms to school all over Kenya .... Some kids walk to school without shoes.” Ahiga showed a picture of a school. “There are no hallways and the doors open to the outside. You have to walk outside to get to another room. Schools don’t have as many resources as we do here, and kids are really crammed together in the classrooms.”

“For lunchtime, they prepare the food in big pans. The students have to bring their own tray or container to school to put the food in. They also have to bring their own spoons and keep track of them.”

“In Kenya, families have to pay for things like uniforms and books for school. If they can’t afford it, they get sent home. There was a little boy who didn’t have $4 so he couldn’t go. My husband gave him the money, and he was very happy.”

If the children are not educated, “they can’t get a job. You need a job to make money to survive. If they don’t go to school, they almost don’t have a chance.”

The Valparaiso resident told the students, “You’re making a difference all around the globe. Just by reading, you’re helping to change kids’ lives. All the money you’re raising is to help build classrooms in Kenya.”

Four Junior Ambassadors, fourth-graders Ethan Nolen and Ryan Ollier and fifth-graders Rohan Byju and Paige Allgeier, discussed why they wanted to be involved.

“I like to help people,” Allgeier said. “It makes my day when I realize people have nothing and we help them.”

Nolen wondered, “What’s going to happen to these people if we’re not taking action?”

Byju hoped what they’re doing at school “could inspire others.”

In order to get more students interested in participating in the read-a-thon, “we gave presentations to third-, fourth- and fifth-graders,” Ollier revealed. Each group of ambassadors had a specific job to do, which also included making announcements, getting permission slips ready and organizing the event.

How does it feel to help less fortunate kids in other countries?

“It gives me something to look forward to ... (and) gives me a boost to get going with the day,” Byju noted.

“It makes me feel like I’m donating for a good cause. Every penny counts,” Nolen added. In Kenya, “they live off about a dollar a day. They have to pay for water, school, food and that’s only their basic needs.”

Ollier announced, “Sometimes I spend my money on things I don’t need like candy. When I donate to this, I feel like it could help make a big change.”

Allgeier revealed, “I went to the food pantry, and it helped me understand what some kids go through .... It makes me happy to be able to help.”

Ahiga said, “When I see so many young people being aware of what is going on, the opportunity for you to make an impact is highly likely. It’s really exciting to see young people who are passionate about this.”

Allgeier emphasized that the Junior Ambassadors group is special because “everyone participates .... Before I was a part of this, I didn’t know what poverty was. Now I know so much.”

Nolen agreed, “Everyone wants to help.”

Amrhein reported $3,200 was raised through the read-a-thon. This included a donation from a community member who pledged a one-to-one match up to $750.

Next semester, the group “will study the SDGs good health and well-being and quality education. We will definitely read the books from the SDG Book Club and share the SDGs with the rest of BIS, and then we’ll see where the Junior Ambassadors’ interests lead us.

“Anne Baran gave us a tour of the Batesville food pantry a couple of weeks ago and I think the children are interested in ‘making a difference’ locally. We understand that donations drop off after the holidays and that items such as diapers and personal care products are needed ... so I bet we’ll do something along that vein.”

Diane Raver can be contacted at diane.raver@batesvilleheraldtribune.com or 812-934-4343, ext. 220114.

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