Students making a change ... with pennies

Funds to help impoverished children abroad

By Ashley Wei


Stella Maris Academy students took part in a fundraising experience last month, raising money to create a positive impact on education in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Sixth-graders in teacher Bethanny McGuire’s classroom were inspired to raise awareness for these impoverished countries after reading “Three Cups of Tea” by Greg Mortenson, a book in the school’s English curriculum. The schoolwide effort raised more than $800 in change toward bettering children in other countries through the Central Asia Institute’s Pennies for Peace program, McGuire said.

The memoir recounts Mortenson’s journey in building a school for a small Pakistani village as a promise to the townspeople who had shown him great hospitality.

The book describes the first institution of the Pennies for Peace program, in which 62,340 pennies were raised at a Wisconsin elementary school. The pennies aided Mortenson in building his first school.

Today, Mortenson is head of the Central Asia Institute, where he continues to champion peace and improved education in impoverished countries such as Pakistan and Afghanistan.

The book allowed students to broaden their cultural horizons in an attempt to become more active global citizens for the betterment of people across the world. In the U.S., a penny is viewed as worthless, but in Pakistan and Afghanistan, the coin buys a pencil.

Mortenson’s goal is to educate students to develop a desire to help others and improve literacy. Students at Stella Maris were able to gain more compassion for societies that do not have readily accessed education for all.

After reading Mortenson’s tale, McGuire’s sixth-grade students were enthused to organize their own Pennies for Peace fundraiser, made possible through Mortenson’s nonprofit organization. The students wrote articles, prepared presentations, and created jars for collecting coins in an effort to encourage the rest of the academy to participate.

“The kids were really excited to (take part in the program) for students in countries like Pakistan who do not have as much as they do. I was really proud of (them). I think they did a great job,” McGuire said.

Donations were only accepted in the form of pennies, to allow all students to participate, even those with limited means. The program strives to cause students to realize their ability to be philanthropists, encouraging participation from everyone, no matter how small.

After the success of this year’s fundraiser, McGuire said she hopes that the program will continue in years to follow at the school.