TOWNSEND — When Caylin Costello saw pictures in an atlas showing children at work in a rural African village, she started wondering what life was like for kids in Africa.
Did they have time to play, for example, or toys to play with?
The pictures in the book made her sad, she said. “The children were always working.”
Caylin, who turns 11 this month and her friend Mikayla Woolfrey, who is 11 1/2, decided they wanted to do something to help children in Africa.
The idea they came up with was simple. “We started collecting pencils, sharpeners, eraser caps and stuffed animals,” Caylin said.
Seeking an adult mentor, the girls turned to Caylin’s grandmother, Lindsay Morand, who was enthusiastically on board from the first.
She still is. When a Townsend Times reporter interviewed the two girls in her Townsend home, Morand helped them sort through folders they’d kept to chronicle their project and offered added perspective on the story.
The Friday before, Morand took the girls to the post office to mail their package to Africa. The cost to send the 12.41-pound package across the world was $94, with an ETA of two to three weeks. Asked if they fundraised to cover shipping, the girls said they hadn’t thought of that but would in the future. This time, Morand paid the bill.
But all that is getting ahead of the story. Taking the project back to the start, the girls said they launched their effort in April and planned to continue through the end of the school year. To begin with, they wanted to get the word out at Spaulding Elementary School, where they were both fifth-graders at the time.
Caylin and Mikayla told all the fifth grade teachers and asked the principal for permission to take their campaign school-wide. “Mr. Coughlin said yes,” Mikayla said.
They put up posters and set out collection baskets in the cafeteria and library.
Donations poured in, mostly during the first week. Some of the toys they got were new, including Beanie Babies with tags still on. Others were gently used but so clean and soft they looked new. No shabby or soiled toys were accepted.
But there’s more to foreign aid than generous hearts and good ideas. The girls didn’t even know where, exactly, they would send the package or how to ensure their gift reached needy African children. The next challenge, then, was to find an overseas connection, someone to receive the package and deliver the contents.
Morand knew who to call, her old friend Fred Goldberg, a retired Squannacook Elementary School teacher whose “outside the box” teaching style became legend during his long tenure at the school and whose post-retirement activities still center on education. Specifically, youth leadership and educational endeavors in Africa.
Having traveled to Africa several times to further his causes, Goldberg’s world-wide network has been enhanced by his latest enterprise, a nonprofit organization called One World Leadership Institute, Inc., or OWLI, that he and a partner founded in 2010.
OWLI is all about partnerships and the values that drove Goldberg’s passion for teaching for over three decades, developing critical thinking skills and growing generations of “ethical leaders of our new world,” to paraphrase OWLI’s mission statement.
Closer to home, Goldberg has helped establish OWLI clubs at private high schools in New England, connecting students to counterparts across the globe. In many ways the clubs are an extension of the visionary global “pen pal” projects his elementary school classroom was famous for.
When Morand told him about Caylin and Mikayla’s project, he was happy to help, Goldberg said. He reached out to a friend in Kenya, Mercy Mburu, who works there on behalf of a Rotary Club in New Jersey that funds local projects such as installing running water in schools. She also works with women’s collectives, helping them promote and sell their distinctive handcrafted jewelry and better their lives in the process.
“She does international work in an African village,” Goldberg said of Mburu. Who better to receive the cheerful care package from Townsend and disseminate its contents?
Besides standard school supplies and stuffed animals, Mikayla and Caylin said the package also contains paper and colored pencils. The idea was that the children who receive them would draw pictures and write back, they said.
Sitting across the table from the girls in Morand’s kitchen, Goldberg, whose students included their parents, told them something about OWLI and about kids in Africa.
But they’d already done some fact-finding on their own. Caylin, for example, wrote a paper on the subject. “Did you know some kids (in Africa) eat only every 48 hours?” she wrote. And that they often live in tiny shacks made of straw and sand, with no toys or books. “So we want to give them some things they need,” she concluded.
Since their self-motivated project was so successful, the girls hope to build on it next year as sixth graders and members of the student council at Hawthorne Brook Middle School.
But on a hot, sunny day in late July, as they prepared to leave for a couple of days on Cape Cod, the two said they hoped only that the gifts they sent bring happiness to children in Africa. And for their part, Caylin and Mikayla said it makes them happy, too.