PORT TOWNSEND — Holly Canda is only 7 years old, but she already knows how to spell Mesopotamia. She can find the country of Iraq on the big globe that sits on the bookshelf in her classroom. She has molded clay into the shape of the country’s landforms with her hands and dredged the channels of the two rivers — the Tigris and Euphrates — that flow into it.
She also knows what happened on that ground in the past, and what is happening there now.
“There’s a war,” Holly said.
The war is the reason that Holly and four classmates in Maxine Peirson’s class at Port Townsend’s Olympic Range Carden Academy — known as ORCA — have been raising money to buy school supplies.
Sent to Iraq
On Thursday, the students packed the supplies — pencils, erasers, notebooks, rulers and colored pencils — into cloth bags and saw them off on the first stage of their trip to Iraq, where they will be distributed to school children.
“We had too many notebooks that the school was given that we didn’t need,” said Anika Ohmas, 8.
“As it says in the Bible, if you have more than you need, you should share. So we thought we should share with Iraq.”
Receiving eight cases of notebooks and having no place to store the surplus is what initially spurred the idea, Peirson said.
Going online, she found that the Mennonite Central Committee distributes kits of school supplies to refugee and displaced children, whether by war or natural disaster.
The site specified what should go into each kit — four notebooks, four pencils, an eraser, a ruler and a box of 12 colored pencils.
So the students calculated how many kits they could make from the surplus notebooks.
“We had six cases of extra notebooks, with 23 in each,” Peirson said. “We figured we could do about 35 kits.”
The school also had some extra pencils and rulers, but to buy all the supplies that were needed, the students sold snacks — ice cream, candy corn and root beer — at Dundee Hill Community Center in Port Townsend on Fridays to a class of home-schooled students led by Connie Hilger.
Not having enough money to afford 35 boxes of colored pencils, which cost nearly $3 each, Anika wrote a letter to Swan School, a private grade school in Port Townsend, and asked if the students wanted to help.
The Swan School students agreed and not only provided colored pencils, but also 35 cloth bags, which were optional.
“One of the Swan School students wanted to make the cloth bags,” Peirson said. “His mother helped him sew them.”
On Wednesday, Russell Yates, Swan School director, and three students — Spencer Drewry, Maya Reda-Williams and Alana McCleese — delivered their share of the project.
On Thursday afternoon, the five ORCA students packed the kits, which were picked up by Bud Buxman, Northwest director of church relations for the Mennonite Central Committee, West Coast.
Buxman took the kits back to Portland by car. From there, they will be trucked to Pennsylvania, then airlifted to Iraq.
Buxman thanked the students on behalf of the children who will receive them.
He has never been to Iraq, but has been to Nicaragua to distribute the kits.
“This is what the children do when they get these,” Buxman said, hugging one of the notebooks to his chest.
“They write on every line of the paper and between the lines. They use up the eraser, erasing and writing over again.
“They wear the pencil down to a nub.”
The ORCA students also included a blue school pencil in every kit.
In addition to using math and marketing skills, Peirson’s students expanded on the project by studying Iraq, both its past and present.
The focus includes history, geography and current events, Peirson said.
“They are asking what it is like now,” she added.
The story of the school supply kits actually began before school started, when Peirson asked her son, Nate, to pick up notebooks for her students at Wal-Mart.
Finding the notebooks were such a good deal, Nate brought home eight boxes instead of two.
Port Townsend/Jefferson County reporter/columnist Jennifer Jackson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.