When Oneness-Family School 7th graders Sophie M-D, Sarah Nia, Ashley, Sophie H-S and Dylan, accompanied by their teacher Amy Rose and myself, arrived at the Huntsburg campus, head of school, Paula Leigh-Doyle and the assistant head of school Laurie Ewert-Krocker, welcomed us in the long foyer of the large farm house building where the students eat, study, work and play. Two 9th graders, Savannah and Leotie, took us on a tour of the farm and school. Their enthusiasm and knowledgeable answers to our questions made it obvious that they were seasoned tour guides who enjoyed talking about life at the farm school. In addition to the dorms and classrooms, we visited the animal barns, the greenhouse, maple syrup operations, wood shop and other facilities.
How enriching for Oneness-Family School students, whose school is in a suburban locale, to step out of their everyday setting and experience another school in a completely different environment! Being from Maryland, in an area that hardly gets any snow these days, we were thrilled spend the rest of the afternoon sledding down a hillside. After drinking hot chocolate and eating a delicious dinner prepared and served by the students, we helped with farm chores, feeding and watering the sheep, goats, and cows.
This enlarging of worlds was a shared exchange between Hershey and Oneness students. Our purpose in traveling to Ohio promised to take Hershey students out of their usual framework, and widen their everyday view with a global perspective. We were there to present Amman Imman and to let the Hershey students know how they could join the coalition of schools that are working together to help the world’s most vulnerable children who are currently dying of thirst in the drought-ridden Azawak valley of Niger.
The next morning after the school’s community meeting, the Hershey 7th-9th graders gathered in the large living room for the presentation. Using the Amman Imman powerpoint presentation, the students and I showed photos and told about the Azawak, a large rural area in Niger where children have to walk as much as 35 miles in a day to bring back a small amount of water for their families and animals.
I explained that we first learned about the desperate plight of the people of the Azawak from Ariane Kirtley, a former Montessori student and Fulbright Scholar who studied public health in Niger and spent a large portion of her childhood growing up there. Ariane told us her compelling story with a passion that deeply inspired our compassion and called us to action. Now, we were at Hershey to pass it on.
The students then described the Azawak, recounting that it lacks the elements of basic development. For instance, there are no roads or trails leading to or from the Azawak. Few schools exist in the area. The closest health center is a two-day trip by donkey. And half of children born there die before they turn five; one quarter die from dehydration alone. The most marginalized region in a country the United Nations ranks as the least developed in the world, unlike throughout the rest of Niger, there are hardly any humanitarian agencies working in this area.
Then together we went on to tell about Amman Imman’s first success story in the village of Tangarwashane where a borehole now accesses pure aquifer water supplying plentiful and clean water to children and families. Now one small corner of the vast Azawak no longer suffers from lack of water.
The student’s trip all the way to Ohio is a testimony to the urgent need for change in this region, as well as to the worldwide movement of Montessori schools, which have banded together in since November, 2006, in partnership with Amman Imman to help spur regional development. Thus far, 50 schools have pledged to help, holding fundraising events and participating in conferences to help raise money and awareness for the project. Just as Amman Imman hopes to be a catalyst for change in the Azawak, the students have become a catalyst for other students to speak out about conditions in the Azawak and rally for change as they work together to build borehole wells.
Before we left for Ohio, the Oneness-Family students reflected on the possibility that their presentation of Amman Imman could have a lasting effect. “If we tell the Ohio students about the Azawak and how they can help Amman Imman, then they will pass it on. It will keep going like a cycle and a bunch of people will start to help,” says Dylan, age 13. Sophie M-D, age 12, added, “The more people we get involved, the faster we can get water to them.”
After the morning session, we drove 20 minutes to the Concord campus and presented Amman Imman to the elementary-aged students.
After each of the presentations, Hershey students enthusiastically expressed their desire to join this coalition of students and work together to help the children of the Azawak. They understood the message and the potential that their involvement could offer.
Upon our return, Paula Leigh-Doyle, head of school at Hershey, wrote a letter to the Oneness-Family School students:
On behalf of the students of Hershey Montessori School, I would like to express my sincere gratitude to each of you for making the journey to Ohio and for presenting the Amman Imman program to our community. It was clear to me that you had carefully gathered information, and had prepared and practiced for your presentation. This must have taken a lot more of your time but you have achieved many positive outcomes as a result of your work. Our younger elementary students have learned by your example about making a good formal presentation and most importantly that children do have a voice and can make a difference in the lives of many!
Our older students have learned that there are other Montessori students out there doing important work and that they have an opportunity to join in an activity that extends far beyond than their work on the farm. They loved having you visit and having an opportunity to give you a tour of their Adolescent Program also.
I know you have inspired our community to take action for Amman Imman and we will share those outcomes with you as they unfold.
Once again, thank you for your work and your delightful spirit!