(Banner Graphic/JARED JERNAGAN)
The students, staff and parents of Ridpath Primary School worked together recently to make a donation of school supplies and financial support for the Precious Words Project, an organization aimed at improving education for impoverished children in Ghana.
All told, the Ridpath community gathered more than 2,000 pencils, 300 books, 50 bottles or sticks of glue, dozens of scissors and rulers and hundreds of markers, colored pencils and crayons.
First-graders also wrote stories to send to their African counterparts.
A fundraising effort netted $906.24 for the program. The money came from direct donations, students who paid to participate in a recent hat day and from lemonade and cider sales during the Berry Street Festival.
"It would have made me so happy if all you gave me was this right here (the envelope of stories)," Dr. Jodie Ferise of Precious Words told the students, "so this makes me very happy."
Ferise and three of her University of Indianapolis students came to Ridpath to tell the youngsters about their previous trip to Africa and what the learning experience is like in a school that is a simple concrete building with literally no supplies.
The school, just founded at the beginning of this year in a small village in the Afram Plains region, did not even have a name.
"I don't know how to explain to you how much they didn't have anything," Ferise said. "Some days they didn't even have lunch."
U of I students Lana Thompson and David Schlect described teaching a class of Ghanaian students with one book between them and no books for any of the students. Thompson told the wide-eyed elementary kids how four or five African students would share a single desk.
"But they didn't care because they got to learn," Thompson said.
Jared Pry, another student who made the trip, described the amazement of the kids in Ghana at simply being able to use a pencil.
It hit home for the Ridpath students, who saw they had the chance to make a real difference for other students in need.
Principal Shawn Gobert spoke to the Greencastle School Board in October of the excitement he and the teachers felt over the learning opportunity this project presented to students.
"The teachers were just, across the board, excited about this," Gobert said.
The project represents not only a chance for students to help a worthy cause, but to introduce them to a much wider world -- a world where great poverty is the norm.
Besides the new donated items, teachers also pitched in their own unused classroom supplies. Long-out-of-use items from the Miller Education Center were also given to the group.
"Broken desks, chairs and other items that can be salvaged, they will take them," Gobert said. "I became aware of this opportunity at the same time we were encouraged to get rid of the mildewy stuff in Miller School."
Best of all, Gobert told the board, donations had no effect on the school's tight budget.
"There will be no cost to the school," he said. "It actually saves us money not to haul it off."
The items from Miller were retrieved two weeks ago during fall break, while the presentation of the other items came on Thursday, Oct. 25.
The donations are already making their two-month freight trip to Ghana. They will be there when Ferise and her students return in December.
The project is an outgrowth of Ferise's social entrepreneurship class. In May, the class visited the school on the Afram Plains, on the banks of Lake Volta.
The students returning are doing so for no credit and at their own cost, simply to make a difference in the lives of students who touched them in the spring.
Plans for the holiday trip include not only delivering books, supplies and learning toys, but also starting a kindergarten program, conducting a sports camp, performing teacher training and even working on clean drinking water for the students.
Following the visit to Ghana, Ferise plans to return to Ridpath to show the Greencastle children the difference they have made.
"You helped us to do something we never could've done without you," Ferise said.
She expressed her appreciation for the support.
"They've really made a difference and this (Ridpath) is a little school," Ferise said.