Last year, elementary school students from the Canadian town of Calgary launched a curriculum based on global citizenship and raised money for a Kenyan orphanage in the town of Litein. Participating students from Fred Seymour Elementary School were in the fourth and fifth grades, which include children who are about 12 years old. The name of their venture was Afri-Can for "African" and "Canadian."
As part of the effort, the students held fundraising initiatives that raised over $50,000 for 100 orphans. First and second grade students – about six and seven years old -- created a 15-track CD of Swahili music sung mostly by a Kenyan orphans choir.
By the end of the school year, a group of 14 students, teachers, and parents went to Africa to meet the Kenyans with whom they’d been communicating through e-mails.
Canadian filmmaker Matt Palmer was interested in the project and followed the students on their journey. The result is a feature length documentary that he says shows students, teachers and parents “reaching out from half-way around the world to touch the hearts of orphans in Africa and as a result change their own hearts and world.” He said, “The first of days were really amazing for the kids…. They were basically treated like rock stars.”
He says it was a unique experience for the Kenyan children, too, since most of them were used to white adults and “had never seen a white kid before.”
At first, he said, the Canadian children did not connect with the Kenyans. But he said during the course of their two-week stay in Litein, every member of the group eventually became close to the orphans.
“They painted the dorms, played games, danced and sang together. Local children wishing to have a pen pal in Canada thrust letter after letter into their hands. The kids from Calgary eventually connected with the orphans. They even built a skateboard ramp,” he said.
By experiencing the hospitality of the people of Litein, the Canadian students were able to dispel many of their preconceptions about the continent and its people. Palmer said his film was a personal journey and lesson for him. “It challenges the audience to confront questions like: how can they help effectively: will the project be sustainable; did they listen to what the locals wanted; and did they raise cultural issues,” he said.
The movie opens this fall and will be featured at film festivals around the world. For more information you can visit. www.lettersfromlitein.com