Members of the Ecology Club at P.B. Smith Elementary School in Warrenton, Virginia, stay after school to work on a special project. They are creating an eco-quilt to send to their sister school in Kabul, Afghanistan.

It all started with an afternoon event organized by Communities of Peace, a nonprofit based in Warrenton, Virginia, that promotes understanding among the world's children. Group founder Gerry Eitner had invited an Afghani activist to talk about her efforts to improve schools in her country. Eitner recalls that a couple of teachers from P.B. Smith Elementary School were at the presentation.
"The principal and another special teacher heard my Afghani friend speak about her programs in Afghanistan," she says. "They got very excited. They wanted to develop a sister-school relationship with a school in Afghanistan."

"A few years ago, we wanted to create some kind of connection with a sister school," fifth-grade teacher Barbara Dennee says. "When this opportunity came about through a presentation on Afghanistan, we knew that was it. We just knew it!"

Students create handmade gift

Dennee coordinates the Ecology Club at PB Smith Elementary. When she took the idea of adopting a sister school to the club, the students got excited and started talking about how to make such a connection. Then, she says, the club members decided to create a special gift for the Afghani students: an eco-quilt, or children's cloth, focusing on the ecology or the beauty of Virginia.

The quilt will be a meter square when it's completed. Ten-year-old Cari Davis explains that each group of students in the club was assigned a section of the quilt to design and put together.

"Our section has a tree on it," she says, "And it's half day, half night. An oak tree that's common, and, like, represent the forests."

"We put animals and mountains and with a sunset in the background, just to show all the beauty of Virginia and how we respect our ecosystem," says Lucia Roach, who works on another section.

The girls say the project is an interesting learning experience.

"We learn about our sister school in Afghanistan," she says. "We learn about eco-stuff, like, always, and we learn how to make a quilt."

"It made us want to know more about it. It's nice making an impact."

Buttons, sequins, hope

Dennee says the project brought a new energetic spirit to the club's after-school meetings. It also gave her students a chance to learn new skills and be more creative.

"They have ideas about adding little charms, buttons and sequins to make it colorful and inviting," she says. "This is our first experience, and they are very, very excited to quilt. We have different materials. We have different fabrics, textures. They have never had that opportunity before to really explore that. And the product, I can't wait to see!"

Dennee says the students are also excited about the feedback this quilt will create when the Afghani students receive it.

"We hope to have interaction, whether it is through letters or postcards, or perhaps it would be an artwork or even another quilt," she says. "Our students go like, 'Oh, wouldn't it be nice if we have a quilt to display in our lobby?' And we would say, 'That's from Afghanistan!'"

Looking for new ways to build relationships

The quilt is just the first part of what's become an ongoing project. Club members, Dennee says, are discussing more ideas about how to forge a deeper relationship with their Afghani sister school.

"Right now, we have a recycle program," she says. "The students are collecting these little juice pouches. We send them away, and for every juice pouch, we get 2 cents. That money will go to the school in Afghanistan, and, believe me, kids drink a lot of juice packs. We've already saved about 200 to 300 of them.

"So that's one part of the project where we actually can send something monetary. We're also looking at a book drive, school supplies and hopefully in the future, a peace garden. And when they look at the garden, they would think of us."

Dennee says she'd like to see more schools around the United States get involved in such projects. Whether it is quilting or exchanging letters and cards, she says, it's an exciting way to build bridges between the world's children and prepare them to be active, involved world leaders in the future.