Abe’s worth more than one cent

POULSBO — Vinland Elementary school students are emptying their pockets to help children on the other side of the world. Inspired by the words of children’s author Greg Mortenson, the children were moved to action.

Mortenson’s book, “Three Cups of Tea: One Man’s Mission to Promote Peace … One School at a Time,” co-written by Oliver Relin, relates Mortenson’s own life experience of what happened after a failed attempt to climb K-2 in 1993. The Himalayan mountain is the second highest mountain on Earth.

“Mortenson was sick and lost,” said Vinland Elementary librarian Debbie Jo Rock. “He stumbled into the remote village of Korphe in Pakistan and was nursed back to health by the villagers, who shared with him what little they had.”

Touched by their act of good will toward a complete stranger, Mortenson promised to come back to the village and build their children a school to repay their kindness. There was no school in the village, so children who wanted to attend school had to go to larger cities, Rock said. Most girls were not educated at all. Although his promise was to come back in a year, it took three years to return to Korphe.

When he visited Kitsap County in September 2007, the author’s message was that even though a penny is considered worthless in the United States, in Afghanistan or Pakistan a penny can buy a pencil and fund a dream.

“One person can change the world and do some really big things,” Rock said.

This is just one of the lessons taught at Vinland Elementary that transcends the standard textbook-and-classroom format, Rock said. Like other elementary schools in the North Kitsap School District, the school has food and toy drives during the holidays. The difference here is that Pennies for Peace reaches out beyond the local community. The learning piece of the project has students using the school library to learn more about Pakistan and that region of the world.

Rock has volunteered to spearhead Vinland Elementary’s effort. There are water jugs throughout the school to collect the pennies. The children’s generosity has extended far beyond the copper pieces dug out of the family La-Z-Boy.

“We decided to keep money in the schools so the kids could visually see their effort,” Rock said. The four-week effort has produced water jugs full of nickels, dimes and even dollar bills.

The penny drive ends on Feb. 15, but until then, the children will continue emptying their pockets and filling the water jugs, Rock said. Pennies for Peace has funded 50 schools.

“In addition to raising money for a good cause, Vinland students are learning about a volatile part of the world, where people might look different than us but have the same dreams of bettering their lives through education,” Rock said.

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