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By Pat Sherman
When faculty at The Children’s School were considering options for their annual fundraising project last year, kindergarten teacher Lisa Dutton came up with an idea: send a teacher or two to a developing country to create a reciprocal bond with a “sister school.”
The progressive, La Jolla-based learning institution’s Head of School, Brian Oliphant, and other faculty liked the idea so much they decided to send Dutton to Tanzania, South Africa for a week. While there, she connected with students and teachers at the Mbahe Primary School, delivering supplies from Children’s School students and establishing a relationship that she hopes will endure.
Dutton and Oliphant envision eighth-grade students and other teachers at The Children’s School traveling there in the future.
“For me, the biggest part and the purpose of my going was to see if it was a good fit for the kids to even go — and it really was,” said Dutton, who traveled 36 hours to get there.
While there, Dutton blogged and posted photos online regularly so that students could follow her trip day-by-day, including a visit to a local hospital where she delivered blankets for newborn babies made by students at The Children’s School.
In one entry, she recalled helping Tanzanian students create Valentines and maps of Tanzania.
“The children loved the map job, (but) weren’t really sure what to make of the Valentines and coloring,” she said. “We could tell that the children are used to being instructed on what to do, when to do it and how to do it. Providing them with something as open-ended as making a Valentine or coloring in a book was a struggle for many of them.”
In preparation for the trip, students at The Children’s School wrote letters to their grade-level peers at Mbahe Primary School, inquiring about their culture — a correspondence Dutton envisions both La Jolla and Tanzania students continuing.
“I could easily see them building friendships and relations with the students there, year after year bonding with students at their same grade level in another country,” Dutton said.
During her trip, Dutton delivered two teaming duffel bangs full of clothes, blankets and school supplies for the students.
In 2010 she spent a summer working at an orphanage for deaf children in Kenya, which gave her an initial taste for the intercontinental outreach project.
“The people and the children in Kenya didn’t have anything, but they were so content and happy and appreciative of anything they were given or did have, and took such great care of it,” Dutton said. “It taught me so much about the value of education and what’s important and not important.”
At the school in Tanzania, Children donned school uniforms until threadbare.
“Each child has one notebook and one pencil that they’re responsible for. Those are their supplies — nothing beyond that,” Dutton said. “They just never let go of that one pencil, because it was really their tool to education. … It just reminds me all the time of how lucky we are, and it’s just a pencil.”
Oliphant said the trip was in line with the Children’s School’s global awareness program, which is embedded in its mission statement.
Learning to be “respectful and appreciative of other cultures” is something he says will benefit students in an increasingly globalized workplace and culture.