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Honest Abe, the penny still has value at Vinland Elementary

Vinland fourth-graders Lukas Anderson, left, and Samuel Ward team up to collect Pennies for Peace, which raises money to build schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan. - Brad Camp/Staff photo
Vinland fourth-graders Lukas Anderson, left, and Samuel Ward team up to collect Pennies for Peace, which raises money to build schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
— image credit: Brad Camp/Staff photo

POULSBO — Students at Vinland Elementary School are developing a better grasp of what the world is like outside of these United States, and how they personally can improve the lives of others.

For five weeks - from Jan. 5 to Feb. 6 - Vinland students participated in the school’s second annual Pennies for Peace (P4P) drive, raising funds for the Montana-based Central Asia Institute (CAI), which helps build schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

“We wanted to instill in the kids that the world is bigger than just Poulsbo,” said Vinland librarian Debbie Jo Rock.

American mountaineer Greg Mortenson founded CAI shortly after a failed 1993 attempt at the summit of K2, the world’s second highest peak. On his way down the mountain, Mortenson stumbled into a Pakistani village and was helped by the people there. Touched by the kindness of the villagers, and witness to their lack of access to education materials, Mortenson promised to return one day and build a school.

Pennies for Peace was started in 1994 when students at Westside Elementary School in River Falls, Wisc., collected more than $623 in pennies to assist with Mortenson’s efforts. Since then, according to the CAI Web site, more than 3,000 “schools, organizations, and individuals” across the globe have raised funds for Pennies for Peace. As of 2008, CAI had built 78 schools in remote regions of central Asia, among other humanitarian projects.

This year, Vinland students and their families donated more than $2,800 to P4P while learning what their money can buy in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and how children in the poorest parts of those countries live.

“I think it’s an important project,” said fourth-grader Lauren Esposito, “because the people in Afghanistan and Pakistan, they don’t have much.”

Using online materials like the Pearson Foundation’s Pennies for Peace Toolkit, as well as copies of the freshly printed children’s book, “Listen to the Wind: The Story of Dr. Greg and Three Cups of Tea,” Rock taught students about a region not well known to most Americans. Her students have also seen how they can be philanthropists with whatever they have.

“I like the educational aspect of it,” Rock said of the P4P program, “and the idea that everyone can contribute.”

This year’s project was the second P4P fundraiser for Vinland students, after a 2008 drive pulled in $3,220 and change.

Vinland Parent Teacher Student Association president Terri Gleich brought P4P to Vinland last year after seeing Mortenson speak at a gathering on Bainbridge Island in the fall of 2007. Gleich, who had read Mortenson’s book, “Three Cups of Tea,” wanted to do what she could to help Mortenson’s organization.

“Reading the book and hearing him speak were the inspiration points,” said Gleich. “I was moved by the story and the sacrifices Greg Mortenson made.”

Gleich enlisted the help of Rock and fellow PTSA member La Rae Denney, both of whom had also read “Three Cups of Tea,” to get the word out. Rock would teach the students through reading and poster-making projects, while Denney made visual art promoting the drive.

Once the drive ended this year, the coins, bills and checks were taken to Peninsula Credit Union in Poulsbo to be totaled.

Rock hopes the P4P program will stick around in 2010.

“I like to continue talking about Mortenson’s work even after our drive ends,” said Rock. “I think it is important they (the students) know that the need is ongoing.”

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