By Devlin Smith
Last year, seventh grade students at North Middle School in Belleville, Mich., began raising money for the African Well Fund in conjunction with their fourth quarter study of Africa. The students set a goal of raising $3,500, but their efforts throughout the spring brought in $7,700.
This spring, North Middle School students again raised money for AWF as they learned about the African continent. The students set a fundraising goal of $5,500 to fund water and sanitation projects at a school in the Ntungamo district of Uganda. Like their peers, these seventh graders exceeded expectations and raised $8,100 to benefit one-and-a-half Ugandan schools.
Seventh grade teacher Steven Hudock answered a few questions about his students’ second successful fundraiser for AWF and the impact it’s had on the North Middle School community.
Why did your school decide to raise money for African Well Fund for the second year in a row?
We were very pleased to be able to work with the AWF again this year for several reasons. When we set out to establish a cross-curricular unit last year, we wanted something we could implement and improve on in years to come. When searching for an organization to work with, we wanted one that was established, provided us with information and would send a representative to our school to speak with our students upon the completion of our fundraising efforts. The AWF met all of these criteria. We also felt very strongly about 100 percent of our donation being given to the effort. The communication and support the representatives from the AWF, as well as their promotion of our efforts, also made our decision to continue to work with AWF unquestionable. We have been very pleased with all aspect of your organization.
Were there any lessons you learned from the previous fundraiser that helped this one run better?
Our efforts the first year really laid the ground work for the second year. We had a well-established process that worked amazingly well the first year and just in following this process again worked well. Because part of our effort is to have students and the community join in this, we did add the Bowling for Africa event [in] which 10 students raised over $900. What helped make things run easier this year was already having established contacts and a reputation in the community, a reputation that was valid and people knew about our project from the year before, as well as knowing it was a legitimate one. It was amazing to see the support and monetary donations come in above last year’s effort during this challenging economic time.
What were the different things students did to raise money?
To start with this year, we had a group of 15 students who worked on a presentation which incorporated the AWF video. These students traveled to four of our six elementary schools and did presentations to the faculty at these buildings, as well as to our school board. Every employee in our district received a letter and donation form as well.
Students in English class wrote letters to celebrities, family, friends and politicians for support and donations. One of our Michigan House of Representative members, Diane Slavens, sent a donation and attended our spaghetti dinner fundraiser. Another student received a letter and donation from our governor, Jennifer Granholm.
Students also were provided with donation request fliers that they could distribute to family members, friends, church groups, etc.
One seventh grade parent organized Bowling for Africa in which students could get pledges and bowl for donations. Students paid their own fees and gave their time. Ten students participated in this event and raised jut over $900.
Many students helped at our spaghetti dinner fundraiser where we served over 300 people and raised over $2,000. Our PTO generously donated their time to prepare the food, as well as paying for it. Our band and choir students performed at this event and students’ African-themed art was on display along with their poetry. There was an item raffle at this event. The items for this raffle were donated by local businesses.
Were your students from last year involved?
Our current seventh graders went and spoke to our sixth grade classes to get them involved. [Social studies teacher Ron] Hoepfner worked with a group of our current seventh grade students to create a series of six video commercials that educated students on the water situation in Africa, as well as soliciting support from the entire student body. Students were able to donate money at lunch. Students donating money wrote their name on a die cut of Africa which were displayed in our hallway outside the cafeteria. Many of our former students made contributions by donating at lunch and attending our spaghetti dinner fundraiser. Our eighth grade choir members also performed with our seventh grade choir at our spaghetti dinner.
In addition to raising funds, you also incorporated topics relating to AWF’s mission in your curriculum. How did you do this?
Our goals were to gets students more involved in their learning about Africa, get students to realize that we are moving toward a more global community and that they can make a difference in the world, and not to take what they have for granted.
We had students go through water-carry activities and learn about the different diseases and parasites people can get from not having clean water. We asked students to reflect on and write about their feelings on what they learned regarding the African lifestyle. Students were surveyed and indicated what they contributed and what they gave up to donate. I would say that our students took away from this experience the lesson that people have the power to affect positive change in the world.
What kind of impact do you think the educational portion had on the students and the fundraiser as a whole that classes were learning about Africa and the water crisis in addition to raising money to combat it?
At the end of our project, we ask students a series of questions about the project. One of the questions is: What are your feelings about this projects impact on the African people?
Magdalena wrote: “I feel good knowing that somewhere on the other side of the globe, we have made a difference. We have pulled together as a school, despite our differences, and helped suffering, sick people.”
Taylor wrote: “I am very proud to have been a part of something so incredible. We are improving the lives of many people and possibly saving some.”
Kathryn wrote : “I think this was a great way to feel like we did something monumental and cool for people who had less than we do.”
Darryl stated: “I think it will help the African school in Uganda so they have more time to learn and less time getting water that is far away.”
Shelby wrote: “I am very excited because me and my classmates made a difference all the way on the other side of the world.”
Tyler wrote: “[E]veryone in this world deserves clean safe drinking water.”
Takira wrote: “I think that this project inspired people to help out Africa and realize how good we have it here in America. I’m glad that the people in Africa have a chance to drink clean water.”
In reading through these answers, and about a hundred more, I really feel our students learned and retained information not only on Africa, but about life and being a good human being. They learned not to take things for granted and that you can make a difference in people’s lives. I truly feel this project awakens the humanity in our students and helps instill the need for a better world.
This year, your students were raising money to fund water projects at a school in Uganda. Did your students feel any additional connection or urgency for this fundraiser knowing they would be helping kids their same age?
[AWF board member] Diane Yoder e-mailed me some photos of the schools, people and facilities in Uganda at the start of our project. These photos helped students make connections and comparisons to what they have. As indicated above by Darryl (and was repeated in several other students’ responses), they identified the personal cost of giving up time for an education in order to gather water. I feel that people were more interested in helping because it benefited students. It also gave it a different perspective this year.
Your original goal for this fundraiser was $5,500 but you ended up raising $8,100. How did the students react when they learned they had surpassed their goal?
Again with the economy being in such a poor state, we all (teachers, students, administrators, parents, etc.) were in awe of the final result. Students were excited and proud of the fact that they had met their goal, but were even more excited when they learned they had surpassed last years goal. One of the nice sentiments about beating last year’s goal was that it wasn’t a competition, the eighth graders were just happy that our school was able to help the people of Africa again. I feel this speaks highly of our efforts both years.
How do they feel knowing their efforts are benefiting students at two schools?
Again, I feel Darryl’s sentiment above indicates that students feel good knowing more students will have a chance at an education and that more people will benefit from our efforts.
After holding these fundraisers for two years, what impact do you see this has had on your students, school and community?
This project truly has brought our community and student body together. It was listed last year in one of the local papers as one of the top achievements in the area. The students, teachers, parents and community members are very proud of this effort. Also, many local elected officials praised our student’s efforts this year.
What advice can you offer to other schools considering fundraising for AWF?
I would highly encourage other schools to get involved. Community service learning projects help students connect better with their learning and studies have shown that it increases students’ performance, not to mention increasing the harmony among students. I would encourage teachers to keep it simple but get students interacting with the community. By doing this, it will increase the interest and amount raised, but also shines a positive light on the school or district. These types of learning opportunities make school a more positive place for students and provide them with good memories.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
The sense of collaboration among students and teachers has been outstanding. Each year, we have had 100 percent of our seventh grade faculty actively involved in implementing lessons, as well as sponsoring and working the many different fundraising events. It has allowed us opportunities to work with students on a different level. It has also had the same impact on me as it has on my students–I feel a part of something bigger. I am making a difference, being a positive role model and getting my students to think globally. I am preparing them for their future.
If your school or group would like to raise money to fund water and sanitation projects at schools in Uganda, please e-mail info@africanwellfund.org.