The entire student body of Liberty Bell High School meandered along a grassy trail flanked by blooming wildflowers on a warm spring morning last week, but the 3-mile walk still gave the students a sense of what it would be like to walk that distance every day just to get to school.
The walk was part of a year-long initiative to support young people in an orphanage in the Democratic Republic of Congo, which was chosen by the school’s leadership class and betterment committee as their global project for the year, according to Rebecca Thomson, health and family and consumer sciences teacher at Liberty Bell.
Students in the two groups choose a local and international initiative every year. The Peniel orphanage in Lubumbashi, Congo, was one of several projects the students researched and considered, said Thomson.
Students chose Peniel because many people in the community — including some students — already support kids there. Twisp residents Linda and Wayne Mendro have been intensely involved with the project for 15 years, recruiting sponsors to help pay tuition — necessary even to attend elementary and high school — and raising funds to improve living conditions for the kids. They also help with a medical and scholarship fund.
Since money raised by the Mendros goes toward tuition in the Congo, the Liberty Bell students elected to fund higher education opportunities and to help improve the orphanage, said Thomson.
Liberty Bell students had already raised more than $800 through a dance and fundraisers at athletic events. Pledges for last week’s walk for the Congo added more than $1,300, putting them over their $2,000 goal, said Thomson.
The walk was followed by an assembly where the Mendros described the impact of their contributions, which they’ve witnessed during numerous visits to Lubumbashi. Students also got to taste a Congolese meal made by the foods class — fufu made from ground, mashed rice, which was used to scoop up kale and spinach flavored with peanuts, onions, garlic and chili sauce.
In addition to the Congo activities, students did an exercise a few months ago that helped them recognize the impact of privilege — and difference — in their own lives.
In an activity developed by senior Katie Labanauskas, students participated in a different kind of race. From the starting line, students were instructed to take two steps forward for each statement that applied to them — but they otherwise had to stay put.
Statements that let them advance included: their parents paid for part of the student’s car, their parents set up a college fund, both parents finished college, the students had never been made fun of or bullied for something out of their control, and the students never had to help their mom or dad pay bills.
“Every statement I’ve made has nothing to do with what you’ve done; it has nothing to do with the decisions you’ve made,” Labanauskus told her classmates at the end of the race — when some still hadn’t budged from the starting line. “We would be foolish to not realize that we have been given more opportunities. We don’t want to recognize that we have a head start but, in reality, we do … It’s only because you have this head start that you are possibly going to win this race called life.”
School administrators gave students two two-hour sessions to devote to the Congo project over the school year. They learned about the history and culture of the Congo and played traditional Congolese games.
“I think it’s so neat that all of this is kids — it’s a cool thing happening across the country,” said Linda Mendro. “I just feel we’re the lucky and blessed recipients of their generosity.”
This year’s local initiative is digital citizenship, which has included movies and projects that help students understand the risks and benefits of the internet and social media.
For more information about the Congo project, visit www.penielorphanage.org.
Below: Liberty Bell students took a 3-mile trek last week to help them appreciate what their peers in the Congo go through just to get to school. The walk put them over their $2,000 fundraising goal to help an orphanage in the Congo. After their walk they were able to sample Congolese foods.