The 4th and 5th grade students at Plainfield Memorial School, in Plainfield, CT were first introduced to the problem of HIV and AIDS in Chikumbuso, Zambia through a unit on African orphans. The teacher explained what it meant to be an orphan, and discussed the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Africa. As the students learned that this disease not only took the lives of many parents, but also infected the children, they were moved to help. The classes brainstormed what of the children in Chikumbuso required as they fought the HIV/AIDS virus, identifying food, water, doctors, medicine, money, shelter, shade, and family as the most pressing needs. To narrow the student’s focus and to find a path towards a solution to the problem, the classes researched the coverage and costs of medical care. They compared cost treatment for children in Zambia to that for children in the US. During their research, the students determined that health care was the primary concern, and that the others were secondary issues.
Inspired by their goal of raising money for medical cards for the orphans of Chikumbuso, the students began researching what might be the most efficient and effective fundraising method. They discussed walk-a-thons, tag sales, car washes, photo-shoots, movie nights, penny drives and many more possibilities. Because of the myriad great ideas, the students conducted a blind vote, to find consensus on the three favorite fundraisers. Students chose a photo shoot, a car wash and a movie night. Each fundraiser was assigned a group of students, calling themselves subcommittees. These subcommittees meet and working together every Thursday, identifying project needs like a back-drop for the photo shoot, cleaning supplies for the car wash, and decorations for the movie night. As the meetings progressed and the students planned dates, locations, the students became increasingly motivated. Empowered by the planning process, students learned time management, how to work with budgets, and collaboration and teamwork. During their research, the students found bracelets, made by women in Africa, the proceeds of which support AIDS orphans. They sold these bracelets to promote enthusiasm for their larger fundraising events. Students raised enough money to buy 210 medical cards to provide health care for orphans with HIV/AIDS in Chikumbuso. The students also learned the power of the global community, and though they never met the children in Zambia they were helping, they still felt a powerful connection.
Throughout the project the students wrote articles for the local newspapers and school community, chronicling their project’s progress. The students also sent emails to the school board and administrators with periodic updates. Though the project started in heath and physical education class, students learned invaluable writing and research skills, increased social and cultural awareness, and encouraged creativity within themselves and their peers. The students took a picture of themselves during the photo shoot, which was hung in the school’s main hallway as a celebration of their achievements. Students also took a survey following the conclusion of their project, which stated overwhelmingly that they wanted to continue with service-learning in the future.