People helping people: Elementary schools take mission of volunteerism global

August 16, 2011 12:10:00 PM

Carmen K. Sisson - [email protected]


Kathy Cadden has made helping others the focus of her life, but Monday, when she found herself in a bit of need, she knew exactly where to go -- Sale Elementary International Studies Magnet School.  


Cadden, the founder and president of Operation Ukraine, had just finished distributing two tons of bananas and limes to local schools, nursing homes and other local organizations last week when she received a call from the U.S. Department of State: People in Somalia were in dire need of everything from food to clothing, and they wondered if she could send a shipment of supplies.  


Cadden knew where she could get two freighters of rice, and she had enough materials in her Ninth Street warehouse to put together 200 hygiene kits, but she needed manpower -- nothing too taxing, just an assembly line of hands willing to roll together bundles of toothpaste, toothbrushes, soap and towels.  


Fifth-graders at Sale were more than willing to help. Forty students volunteered part of their afternoon Monday to stream from table to table in the school cafeteria, selecting items and placing them in plastic bags for shipment to North Somalia, where war, famine and drought are taking a catastrophic toll.  


According to the United Nations, more than 3.2 million people in Somalia -- half the country''s population -- are in need of help. According to U.S. reports, approximately 29,000 children below the age of 5 have already died.  


For students like Breanna Geter and Cassidy Budgins, learning about Somalia was a sobering experience. Quietly, they stood in line, smiling shyly and hugging blankets close to their chests. Both said they were not aware of the situation in Somalia until they learned about it in class Monday morning.  


"I feel bad that those babies over there are dying," Breanna said.  


Cassidy nodded. "I''ve seen pictures on the Internet of people lying in their boxes," she said. "It makes you want to cry." 


But for Myles Howard, who was among students who assisted Operation Ukraine with bagging supplies for Haiti last year, the Somalia situation was one of which he was already aware, and helping was just part of another day as a student at Sale.  


The school, which is the only elementary school in Columbus to offer the International Baccalaureate Primary Years curriculum, emphasizes global awareness, volunteerism and community service.  


"They don''t have enough food to feed the people, and they are suffering," Miles said of Somalia. "We''re an IB school, and we like to help people. I feel sorry for the people who don''t have the things we have. Helping makes you feel good." 


IB Coordinator Kay Ellis echoed Howard''s sentiment, saying helping others -- not only in Columbus but around the world -- is a big part of the IB program.  


"We''re there when somebody asks for help," Ellis said.  


Cadden said she will send supplies to the northern part of Somalia, because Al-Qaeda militants control the southern portion of the country and often intercept aid.  


"The Somalian government is telling them it''s better to starve and die than take anything from the West," Cadden said.  


She sent her first container of aid to Somalia in 2007. A few weeks ago, she sent school bags, linens, and clothing to Haiti, and she will return to Haiti in a few weeks to continue ongoing relief efforts for victims of the January 2010 earthquake. A lot of people don''t realize that $12,500 buys 42,500 pounds of rice and will feed 42,500 people for two days, she said. A $1.50 jar of peanut butter will provide all the protein a child needs for a month.  


"If everyone in Columbus gave $1, we could buy three containers of food," Cadden said.  


Right now though, she''s looking for people to help wash buckets that will be used for people in Haiti to gather water. She already has the buckets, she just needs the manpower. A few days ago, victims of the April 27 tornado in Smithville, grateful for the aid she sent to them, came to Columbus to help wash buckets.  


"My parents brought us up to believe that if you see somebody in need and you can help, you get up off your duff and do something," Cadden said. "I get frustrated because I''m old and my body hurts, but if I don''t do it, who''s going to do it? When I stand before my Maker, I''m not going to say I couldn''t help because I was watching TV."

Carmen K. Sisson is the former news editor at The Dispatch.