A surprise LinkedIn message from thousands of miles away created an unexpected connection between Farnham Elementary School principal Cathy Canzani and colleagues in Kenya. More than five years and a pandemic later, students and teachers at the school are pitching in to make sure Kenyan students keep learning. Stephen Mwara, a teacher at Sokoro Primary School in Molo, Nakuru County, Kenya, messaged Canzani out of the blue on the social media platform “five or six years ago,” Canzani remembers. “He just said he wanted to learn more about Canadian schools.”
The two teachers struck up a friendship, and last year, when Canzani was teaching grades 3 and 4, she and her students, who were around the same age as the children in Mwara’s class, raised money to allow Mwara to buy school supplies and sports equipment; in return, they received a joyous unboxing video. The children also started exchanging videos and letters, sent as photos and email attachments.
“Our student population is almost entirely white, and at the beginning, our students felt like there was a big difference between themselves and the Kenyan kids,” says Canzani. “Once we started swapping videos, it was like that barrier melted away.”
The fundraiser gave rise to a multidisciplinary project. “Our motto at Farnham Elementary is ‘Work hard, be kind, develop your mind,’ and we worked on every aspect of that,” Canzani says. “We did a huge math problem when we were trying to find out shipping costs and currency conversions and what to buy.” (Plans to buy sports equipment in Canada and ship it to Kenya were dropped when the class realized mailing a box of supplies to a small town in central Kenya would cost as much as the supplies themselves.) “The students worked on their writing skills with the letters, and we learned a lot about Kenya.”
They also discovered the pleasure of giving, of “being part of something bigger than you and learning to care for others,” says Canzani. “The joy on the faces of the Kenyan students as they opened the gifts was amazing, and so was the joy for our students who did the giving.”
Keeping children in school
This year, nearly two years into the COVID-19 pandemic, as the season of giving shifts into high gear, Canzani and her students are taking their fundraiser a step further, in collaboration with Mwara and Keziah Njuguna, the head teacher of Sokoro Primary School.
“In Kenya, going to school is a privilege,” Canzani explains. “Because of COVID, a lot of parents have lost their jobs and a lot of kids have had to drop out of school. A year’s tuition costs between $200 and $230. We decided to try to raise enough to send ten kids back to school.”
Canzani decided to expand the fundraiser and make it a school-wide event. “COVID is wearing on all of us, you could just feel that the energy was low around the school, and I figured we could find a way to give back,” she says. The staff and students of Farnham Elementary have been keen to pitch in. Canzani began accepting donations in late November and plans to continue until Valentine’s Day. The school’s grade 2 class raised $520 through a single Christmas card sale in early December.
Parents and community members who wish to contribute to the project can mail cheques to Farnham Elementary School (425 Rue Saint-Joseph, Farnham, J2N 1P4), buy products from a class fundraiser or drop off cash or cheques at the school. Tax receipts for donations can be issued.