Kids helping kids

From left; Victoria Nakovski, Grace Houk, Lake Smith and Oliver Sauncaucie show their books and the stuffed animals the classes collected. - Breeana Laughlin
From left; Victoria Nakovski, Grace Houk, Lake Smith and Oliver Sauncaucie show their books and the stuffed animals the classes collected.
— image credit: Breeana Laughlin

A brutal civil war. A fatal epidemic.

It’s hard to imagine children having to face these awful truths. But it’s happening to children in northern Uganda right now.

Unicorns. Bunny rabbits. Princes and princesses.

South Whidbey kids are comforting the children of Uganda by writing lighthearted, uplifting stories to help them sleep at night.

Kathy Stanley’s combined second-third grade class collaborated with Susan Milan’s combined kindergarten-first grade class for a global writing activity called “The Memory Project.”

This program is currently focusing on the children of northern Uganda, where a brutal civil war has caused unimaginable tragedy for the children of the area. To escape the danger, about 40,000 children leave their villages and flock to the cities to sleep in shelters or on sidewalks. In addition to the tragedy of war, the HIV/AIDS epidemic has left many children orphaned.

The primary school teachers showed their students a kid-friendly Powerpoint show to explain the purpose of the “Memory Project.”

To comfort the children of Uganda, the project invites students to make story books for kids to look at before they go to sleep. The artwork and calming text is meant to help the children find momentary peace of mind.

The national language of Uganda is English. So another purpose of the project is to help the children of Uganda learn to read.

The project was also vital in educating children in South Whidbey.

The Primary School teachers said having an authentic way for students to help other kids was an effective approach to writing.

“One of the big pieces for teaching writing is to have an audience, and that really helped them focus their writing,” Stanley said.

“We framed it as making comfort stories, so they could help the kids go to sleep,” Milan added. “So that’s something they could relate to, even though they aren’t dealing with a similar circumstance.”

The kids, inspired by the project, asked if they could also bring in stuffed animals from home.

“We said, ‘Sure, why not?’ And they collected a big box of them,” Stanley said.

“Some of them even found stuffed animals that went with their stories,” Milan said.

The teachers said their students really took writing their books seriously.

“They were gifts from the heart for sure,” Milan said.

“They were very cute,” she said. “I think for me, the strong point was that they got the idea of it being friendly and keeping out scary things.”

“We noticed a lot of making friends, and two strangers coming together,” Milan said. “And their were a lot of animals — a lot of bunnies.”

Second grader Roslyn Schoeler shared her story.

“It’s about a princess that found a dog, and they went for a walk. Then they saw a girl, and they went to the princess’ home and gave the dog a bath,” she said.

Another student wrote about unicorns. She said she wanted to make the kids in Uganda feel really good.

“I want them to feel like unicorns are really good animals even though they don’t exist,” the first grader said.

First grader Bayley Gochanour wrote about a bunny that found a friend.

“The bunny was lonely and a butterfly wanted to be her friend, and then they became friends,” she said.

Emmawyn Anastasi wrote about a bunny and a mermaid.

“They get married and then they make pies,” she said.

The kids spent a good amount of time creating their books.

“They had to do all the steps. They had a prewrite, a rough draft, and did some revising before they put it in a published form,” Stanley said.

The writing workshops were also a lesson in teamwork. Students from the older class were partnered with students from the younger class so they could help each other with their stories.

“It was a total collaborative effort between both classes,” Stanley said.

The project took about three months total, from the time it was first introduced to the time the books were sent off in early March.

The teachers said the Clinton postmaster was really helpful getting the books and stufed animals sent overseas.

“I hope they serve the purpose they were intended for — to help a child feel good and comforted,” Milan said. “And I think they will.”

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