Students’ project to benefit Rwandan orphans


By Pat Sherman

About $1,000 that La Jolla Elementary School students raised through the sale of Valentine’s Day cards will help several Rwandan orphans attend school for an entire year.

The card sales were part of the school’s volunteer Service Learning Program, in which 15 fourth- and fifth-graders meet monthly to discuss issues such as homelessness, caring for the elderly, and protecting the environment. The students consider their options before choosing a charity for the entire school to get behind, usually on a monthly basis.

Student leaders visit classrooms to explain the service project to their peers and help promote it.

Parent volunteer Cynthia Kronemyer, who introduced the Service Learning Project three years ago, meets with students each month to educate them on fundraising options.

“I find out what the kids know about various issues — animal abuse, the homeless, veterans — and then take them through some facts they might not really know, like 25 percent of the homeless population in San Diego are children,” Kronemyer said.

Before students vote on a charity to adopt for the month, Kronemyer encourages them to consider where their money might have the greatest impact.

For February, the students chose the grassroots

Rwandan Orphans Project

, which was founded by local doctors Ronald Reinsch, Paul Oas and Sandra Bagley.

Reinsch, a reproductive endocrinologist, founded the organization six years ago after taking part in a humanitarian mission in the capital city of Kigali, Rwanda.

There, he saw large numbers of young boys living on the streets, alone and in poverty. Some children’s parents had died of AIDS; others had been kicked out of their homes when their mother remarried and her new husband chose not to care for them, Reinsch said.

“They’re kind of like feral cats, kind of skittish and living by their wits, surviving basically from day to day,” Reinsch said.

The Rwandan Orphans Project helped turn an abandoned warehouse into a place where the orphans can get a hot meal, have a place to sleep and get an education.

Reinsch said the donation from La Jolla Elementary students will pay for either two high school-age boys or three middle school-age boys to attend a full year of school.

Other service projects at La Jolla Elementary have raised money or amassed food, blankets, eyeglasses and other items for organizations such as Storefront, an emergency shelter for homeless youth.

A Valentine’s card sale two years ago raised $550 for victims of the Haiti earthquake.

Scripps Health CEO Chris Van Gorder and Chief Medical Officer Brent Eastman gave La Jolla Elementary students a PowerPoint presentation by on the situation in Haiti after traveling there with the students’ donation.

Several students were so moved that they started a lemonade and cookie drive that ran through the remainder of the year, raising another $500 for the cause.

“That made it so real for them; they could actually see the devastation there,” principal Donna Tripi said.

Dr. Reinsch plans to give a similar presentation to students about his organization’s work in Haiti.

Tripi said students believed that the Rwandan Orphans Project was “a good organization to help and that their money would go far.”

“We want them to be adults that understand that giving back to the community is important,” she said.