World's needy will benefit from Oakdale kids' coins

OAKDALE -- Pupils at Magnolia Elementary School are learning more than letters and numbers. They are learning how to give.

They are supporting Heifer International, a humanitarian organization that gives animals to those in need and teaches people how to use those animals as a regular source of food and income, said Carla Bonetti, Heifer International's northwestern regional director.

Those who receive animals then give the first-born female to another family.

"You take someone in a desperate state and make them self-reliant and able to help someone else in need. The self-esteem that creates is immeasurable," Bonetti said. "And (in Oakdale) you give children an opportunity to do the same thing, and they get it immediately."

Each Magnolia Elementary School class has set a goal. The school hopes to raise $4,110 by April. In the first month of the fund-raiser, children raised about $1,000, teacher Shauna Rico said.

Teachers are using the fund-raiser as a way to open discussion about agriculture, cultures, geography and math; encourage the children to set goals; and develop two character traits that Magnolia prizes, compassion and responsibility.

Although she never has seen a real buffalo, sixth-grader Jessica Asher, 11, said she wants to buy one for a family she'll never meet in a country she may never visit.

"It helps in a lot of ways," she said while rolling coins as other children played outside during recess. "It gives milk, and works, and the family can give the babies to other families."

Sixth-grader Robert Ronelas, also 11, said he wants to buy sheep so a family can "get wool and sell stuff made from it."

Librarians at Magnolia have been reading stories about children who have benefited from projects run by Heifer International, which is based in Little Rock, Ark. In classes, children are asked questions of the week inspired by the organization, which says it has helped 8.5 million people in more than 125 countries since 1944.

The most important lesson Rico hopes students learn from the fund-raiser is that life for children in many other countries is profoundly different from life the United States.

"A lot of kids didn't know how hard other kids have it in the world," Rico said. "I also have to explain to the kids that they won't actually get to see the rabbits or decide where the money goes. We have to explain that these aren't pets. A trio of rabbits is food."

The concept was new to some students, but many, especially those growing up on farms, were at ease with it.

It's not the first time Magnolia pupils have learned of others' plight. The school raised $15,000 for victims of the tsunami that hit several Asian countries three years ago, Rico said. A few months later, they raised $8,000 in a coin drive for victims of Hurricane Katrina.

Bee staff writer Eve Hightower can be reached at 578-2382 or ehightower@modbee.com.