A few months ago, Brianna's dad, Steve Perruzzi, seeking to start a pen-pal relationship with a school in Africa for his 6th grade class, came in contact with Peter Amunga, a teacher and school chaplain at Kisumu Day High School in Kenya. What started as simply correspondence quickly blossomed into a beautiful outpouring of generosity and real assistance, much of it initiated by the kids themselves. Click here for a write-up that the San Luis Obispo Tribune did on what has become "Project Kenya."
Since I'm not sure how long the Tribune leaves articles on its site, here is the text in its entirety:
Posted on Sun, Sep. 25, 2005
Creston students reach out to Africa
Elementary students who started with money, now give bicycles
By Nick Wilson
Kenya has severe poverty and widespread AIDS, and some children run to school past wild animals.
Students at Creston Elementary in northern San Luis Obispo County enjoy the comforts of bus and car rides and drinking fountains, and they run on the schoolyard grass during recess games.
The distance between the two areas is great, and Kenya may seem like another world to Creston youngsters. But sixth-grade elementary school children in the tiny North County town feel for struggling youngsters in the African country -- and are working to help some of them in a vital way.
Students in teacher Steve Perruzzi's class started by donating their own money to support a 10-year-old girl whose parents and younger sister died from AIDS. Now, they are providing bicycles to help Kenyan children get to and from school, Perruzzi said.
Since school started Aug. 24, students have raised $79.16 for the girl and $134 for the bikes -- money that goes a long way in Africa -- after initially being asked by their teacher to bring a quarter to class each month. They call the effort "Project Kenya.
"Donations are voluntary, and the outpouring of support has impressed and touched Perruzzi.
"I'm always amazed at the heart children have for helping other children," Perruzzi said.
The effort began after Perruzzi's daughter decided to adopt two Ethiopian children. That prompted the teacher to put a posting on a Web site at www.epals.com seeking to form a pen-pal relationship with an African school.
He was contacted by Peter Amunga, a teacher and school chaplain at Kisumu Day High School in Kenya. Amunga was enthusiastic about an e-mail exchange with Creston youngsters, since lessons are taught in English at the western Kenya school.
Initial correspondences revealed to the Creston students that Kisumu City, one of the largest cities in Kenya, has among the highest population of street children in the country since a vast number of adults have died of AIDS. Of the 920 students at the school, located on the outskirts of the city, 258 are orphans.
Children at the Kisumu school range from 8 to 19 years old.
Ten-year-old Lilian Isendi wrote that she runs 45 minutes to class past wild animals such as giraffes. She joked Kenyans are among the best marathon runners because they have to run so much.
Isendi lives with her mother; her father died of AIDS. She lamented having to interrupt studies to retrieve water at a nearby lake since the school building has no running water.
In her writings, she expressed excitement over a visit from two guests from England and a feast they had together.
"I had never been so close to a white man before," Isendi said. "We gawked at them! ...We sang traditional songs. They joined us in a jig. It was fun!"
Creston students have become enthralled with the e-mails and eagerly anticipate them.
"They have to run so far to school," said student Tyler Van Tassel, 11. "I'm surprised they're not attacked (by animals)."
Compelled to help
Before the students got involved, the impressions of life in Africa led Perruzzi to personally want to help. He and his wife donated money for a bicycle for a 12-year-old boy named Oscar Onyango, who was walking four hours a day round trip to school from his grandmother's home. Both of Oscar's parents died from AIDS.
Oscar wrote he was overjoyed to get a new bike. He hopes his education will enable him to become a scientist and find a cure for AIDS.
"I chose a bicycle christened 'HERO,' " Oscar wrote. "I liked its shape and name. I hope to be a hero one time."
Amunga, the Kenyan teacher, leads a humanitarian project called Mission to the Fatherless that helps orphans by giving them meals, raising funds, offering counseling and support, and ensuring basic needs such as school uniforms.
He told Perruzzi about Lavender Bosco, a 10-year-old orphan girl who was burned in a fire at her grandmother's thatched hut. She was recovering in a hospital and needed $32 a month for food and clothes.
So Perruzzi asked his students to get involved, urging them to donate a quarter a month. Students started bringing in their spare change.
"It's good to be able to help and make a difference and learn about their lives," said Amanda Gutierrez, 11.
So far, the Creston students have donated $79.16 to help Bosco -- putting their donations in a black metal box with a slit for money, welded by Van Tassel.
The cost of a re-conditioned Kenyan bike is $50, and Van Tassel donated the entire amount for one. Students Justin Hunt and Ryan DeBusk also joined together to donate a bike.
At the end of the month, Perruzzi plans to wire about $300 for five new bicycles from staff and student contributions.
Meanwhile, Perruzzi said he has formed a long-distance friendship with Amunga, and they share the Christian faith.
"We both knew our getting together was not an accident," Perruzzi said.
The American teacher and his wife have donated money for three bikes. And Perruzzi said he hopes to visit Kisumu City.
As far as the students' efforts, "Project Kenya" will continue at least through the end of the year and into the future, Perruzzi said.
"The generosity and compassion shown by my students has been a genuine blessing to me," he said.
Nick Wilson covers North County education for TheTribune. He can be reached at (805) 238-2720 ext. 20 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
There was also an article in the Atascadero News about it. (I couldn't find that one online so if anyone has a link or a softcopy of it, email it to me at email@example.com and I'll include it here as well.)
You can also read about the little girl they are sponsoring (Lavender Bosco), the "Bicycle Blessings" program (read Oscar's story), and read a story by Lilian Isendi, a 10-year old at the school here.
As a result of the newspaper exposure, several others have contacted Steve wanting to help, including a man from Kenya who resides in Paso Robles. God is definitely at work, and it is truly amazing to see Him working in such visible and tangible ways. In looking at the endless need in this world, we tend to assume that to accomplish any real good requires something far surpassing what we have. But we forget that so often God chooses to work on a small scale, in the individual hearts moved to help a fellow human being in need. And in doing that, He accomplishes so much more than moving resources from point A to point B. Just ask the kids in Mr. Perruzzi's class.