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Students at Goshen Elementary are spreading the love to Africa this Valentine’s Day.
The school’s two fifth grade classes have begun collecting soccer balls and basketballs which they plan to send to children in Kenya this spring. The project is part of a school-wide service requirement.
John Willingham, president of Hearts for Kenya, a charity which aims to “combat poverty, hunger and disease in small, agragian communities in the Nyanza province” in western Kenya, spoke to the students Monday afternoon.
He presented an example of a typical Kenyan soccer ball, which is made of a rock covered in plastic bags and tied with string.
“It really wouldn’t be very fun to play with one of the homemade soccer balls,” said 11-year-old Jackson Crane.
Willingham explained that his organization builds schools, churches and orphanages, and provides medicine, education and a food source.
When Hearts for Kenya built a playground at one of the schools, Willingham said, the Kenyan children didn’t know what to do with it. They had never seen one before.
“Even the teachers came out, and they started swinging because they’ve never had a playground,” Willingham said.
He spoke of an eighth grade class with 90 students, and the small bowl of short pencils, two pens and a ruler which served as supplies for the entire class.
“Something that really surprised me was how little supplies they had,” Jackson said.
As for the new soccer balls, Willigham said they are so essential because “they’re just completely gone within a year.”
Unlike soccer teams American students are used to, a soccer team in Kenya can have 50 players on it.
“We know they’ll use them, and we know it’ll help them out,” said Hope Laubach, 11. “We have a lot of stuff, and we are really privileged.”
Teacher David Wallace, whose 17-year old daughter plans to accompany Willingham to Kenya this spring, got the idea for the soccer ball project after hearing Willingham speak about Kenya last summer.
“I just realized that, when kids are playing soccer with wound up plastic bags, there’s something we can do to help,” Wallace said. He added that he has not set a goal for the number of balls the class aims to collect.
“Whatever the kids want to contribute, and however they can help, I think would be appreciated and used.”
Wallace said one of the main goals of the project is to empower the Kenyan people and to help them become more self-
“I think it’ll be amazing, because these classes are so generous,” Wallace said.
Wallace said teachers have been working to involve the fifth-graders in their community through a variety of service projects and organizations.
Last semester, the students collected more than 20 boxes of supplies, including snacks and new released DVDs, which they mailed to soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan.
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