Sunset Hills: Aligning through study, compassion and action

African studies came to life dramatically for the elementary students at Sunset Hills Montessori School in Reston, Virginia this year.  Along with learning about African biomes and exploring through various Montessori cultural materials, the students had an opportunity to realistically align themselves with children in the Azawak region of West Africa.  Upon learning about the tremendous hardships endured by the children and families due to an absolute lack of water, the children were empowered to take positive action.  When the school community understood the depth of the problem and realized that through Amman Imman's unique work in the region they could help, everyone jumped right in.

First, teacher Nicole Hambleton worked with Attaher Mohamed, a Tuareg from the Azawak, whom she met while volunteering for Amman Imman.  Nicole and her students purchased mosquito netting and other supplies to send to Attaher's uncle's village school near Abalak, and wrote letters to the students at the school.   The lives of children in a desolate valley in Niger began to get a little closer.

Local jewelry artist Raven Orthaevelve made beautiful pendants with the inscription, Amman Imman, Arr Issudar which means "Water is Life, Milk is Hope", a common saying heard in the Azawak in Tamashek, one of the local languages.  Using their own hand prints, all of the students made a khamsa, a symbol of good luck or protection in many cultures.  They sold the pendants and the khamsas  to raise money for the Kijigari borehole.

Jewelry donated by artist Raven Orthaevelve
In the classroom, students created dioramas of the African biomes and flags of African countries.  They also chose cultures from different countries and packed suitcases to represent the fundamental needs of the people of that culture, conducted fourteen point research, and planned trips to various countries of the aid of travel agents. A trip to the Bing Stanford Gallery to see Ariane's photos of the stark terrain of the Azawak valley and the climate's affect on the lives of the people brought their exploration to life, and helped them connect even more deeply with the people of the Azawak.   "This experience (at the gallery) really brought the work they have been doing to help the children of the Azawak home for them as they were able to see pictures of some of the children they wrote to and hold crafts the children had created and sent to America," reported Nicole.

In doing so, a region once foreign and remote became dear and familiar.  The student's concern and desire to help their African brothers and sisters deepened.   When the opportunity to participate in A Walk for Water came about, the entire community rallied to express their compassion and active support.

Parents Leisa Fowler-Sheridan and Tammy Dalakis supported Nicole in galvanizing a solid brigade of Sunset Hill families who woke up early on Saturday morning on May 15 to board the school's bus and drive 45 minutes to Lake Frank.  Driver Jennifer McCallister volunteered her time.   The children and their families walked 3.25 miles around the lake in beautiful weather in unity with over 200 people.  Reports Nicole, "To the families, it was totally worth it.... the children were very proud to be able to present a check for $1,171, plus nearly $500 in family donations to Amman Imman from their sales over the previous two weeks. Natalie Barrett couldn't make the walk and so she and her friend opened a lemonade stand and donated all of the proceeds to Amman Imman!"

In total the Sunset Hills community contributed over $2,000 towards finishing the Well of Love in Kijigari.

Thank you to the amazing students, parents, teachers and friends of Sunset Hills Montessori School!


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