With Song and Support, Students Connect with Ugandan Orphans

It’s one thing to send money to an orphan halfway around the world.  It’s quite another to talk to him face-to-face, some Lowell third-graders learned this year.

Thanks to the magic of Skype, students at Murray Lake Elementary chatted with children at an orphanage in Kampala, Uganda, including a 14-year-old named Andrew whom they agreed to sponsor.

The third-graders raised $2,568, both for Andrew’s living, medical and educational expenses, and extra for the orphanage.Doing their part in the song are, from left, Grace Hough, Zahna Rutz and Grace VanTimmeren

When the students first “met” Andrew on a projection screen in a Murray Lake classroom, he told them he would like to become an engineer. “We would like to help you do that,” teacher Diane Titche told him. “Thank you!” Andrew responded. “You’re welcome!” a classroom of students shouted.

Murray Lake students also sang a song about Michigan to the children of CHAT House, proudly proclaiming, “We are from Michigan and glad to be!” The African students responded with a lively song while their Lowell counterparts clapped along to the beat. Students exchanged facts about the weather, their school subjects and things they like to do for fun.

“Hi!” piped each Ugandan student before asking a question. One boy wanted to know what time it was in Canada. “We’re not in Canada, we’re in the United States,” answered Jeff Richards. “But we have the same time as Canada.”

The long-distance conversation resulted from Titche’s long-held interest in promoting student service work, and an innovative charity that connects North American schools with the orphanage.

Ainslie Shelley asks a question of one of the orphans via Skype Learning New Culture While Aiding Student

“CHAT to the Future: Care and Hope through Adoption of Technology” was founded by Adam McKim, a high school teacher in New Brunswick, Canada. Based on a world issues class, McKim created a Skype network and donation program to help students “see each other as neighbors and realize their potential to lend a hand, improve the world and make new friends,” according to the CHAT web site. About 40 U.S. and Canadian schools participate.

The program is one of several Titche has chosen for her classes’ service projects over the years. They included providing art supplies to children in Senegal, funding mosquito nets to protect African children from malaria and becoming pen pals with students in Thailand. “I want to empower the kids to let them know they can make the world a better place,” Titche said.

Her class and two others raised money for Andrew with their annual Market Day and donations. Students sold everything from painted drinking glasses and doll clothes to baked goods and face painting. They collected more than twice their original goal of $1,200 to fully sponsor Andrew for a year. The extra will be used to buy a van, so children don’t have to walk 30 minutes for fresh water or hitch a ride to the hospital if they are sick.

Students said they loved the chance to contribute.

“I think it’s pretty cool to help out Andrew, because it’s like helping out a whole new world – people who are not like you,” said Leah Davidson.

“It’s amazing to support Andrew because we get to learn the culture of African people,” added Ramsey Ponchaud. “And we get to talk to someone who lives on the other side of the world.”

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CHAT to the Future

Charles Honey
Charles Honey is a freelance writer and former columnist for The Grand Rapids Press/ MLive.com. As a reporter for The Press from 1985 to 2009, his beats included Grand Rapids Public Schools, local colleges and education issues. Honey served as editor of The Press’ award-winning Religion section for 15 years. His freelance articles have appeared in Christianity Today magazine, Religion News Service and the Aquinas College alumni magazine. Read Charles' full bio.

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