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Monday, June 30, 2008

Reaching out to Africa

Cross students aim to instill hope with books made for Ugandan children

By Molly Rosner
Special to the Register
NEW HAVEN
— Wilbur Cross High School English Teacher Dana Buckmir had it in mind to assign her sophomore students a project that would help enrich their education beyond a classroom.
She succeeded.
The 15- and 16-year-old students in Buckmir’s English class completed the unique and eye-opening project at the end of the school year by creating Books of Hope to send to less-fortunate counterparts in Uganda.
Buckmir said she learned through a program called "Youth for Ethical Service" of the ongoing effort, "Books of Hope," a nonprofit group that collects homemade books to send to the children of Uganda.
"All of the Wilbur Cross students (involved) demonstrated a lot of time and commitment for this project and everyone who completed the project received an ‘A’ or a ‘B,’" Buckmir said.
Uganda is currently involved in civil unrest that has plagued parts of the country for more than 20 years. Children in northern Uganda are often the greatest victims, and there have been thousands of child soldiers captured during the night and forced to fight for the rebel army, according to news accounts.
Many first-hand accounts of survivors report memories of being forced to do terrible things, such as torturing other children, often their own friends or family members.
"Most of the kidnappings occur during the night, so children must walk five to eight miles each night to reach a safe camp so they won’t be abducted by the rebel army," Buckmir said.
The Books of Hope are designed to educate the children there and to be "instructional and inspirational tools" says Buckmir. The books are intended to be used by the children during the day at school, and at night to comfort them while they are in hiding, she said.
Generally, the books include subjects ranging from mathematics to grammar. The founders of the organization hope they will educate the children of Uganda, and at the same time American students about the current events and issues in other parts of the world.
Buckmir’s students’ book topics included poetry, creative writing, and some biographies based on individual analysis and research.
For example, "Survival of Poetry," by student Danella Ellis, is a compilation of poems by Maya Angelou and Tupac Shakur, as well as some original poems by Ellis. "Ballington," by student Omar Ryan, is about a boy who chooses getting a good education over playing basketball. Student Crystal Whitmore wrote a story called "The Bad Hair Day," about a bully who learns a lesson about being kind to others.
All of the Books of Hope convey a positive message with examples of love, survival, determination, hope, courage and faith. The goal is for the children of Uganda to feel happy and optimistic reading the books, Buckmir said.
Buckmir’s students said they were pleased to make the Books of Hope, and they "enjoyed writing the books because it allowed them to write their thoughts and it was centered on students." The projects made the students appreciate the lives they have and feel empathy for those in need, they said,
To learn more about Books of Hope, visit www.booksofhope.org/uganda.shtml

Molly Rosner is a New Haven Register intern

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