By SHANNON SPEIRS
It’s a sunny Friday afternoon at an elementary school in Provo, Utah. The children are anticipating the most exciting part of the day – art time. The teacher tells the students that today they can draw anything they’d like. All the students pull colorful pencil boxes from their wooden desks and begin rummaging through the contents.
They dig past pencils, a pair of scissors, erasers and a stick of glue before finding crayons. The children smile as they draw yellow flowers and bright red balloons, unaware of all they are taking for granted.
Halfway around the world, children in Iraq sit in small classrooms that have been remodeled after the violence of the war destroyed them. The children wait patiently to use the one pair of scissors in the room. They have no wooden desks, no colorful pencil boxes, no art time. They have never seen or written with a crayon; in fact, they have never heard of crayons – until now, thanks to the consideration and willingness of a sixth-grade boy from Provo.
Jose Martinez, a sixth-grader at Franklin Elementary School, has helped to give school children in Baghdad the supplies they have been without for so long.
Jose’s background and interest in the military helped to spur the idea of gathering donations from schoolmates in an attempt to lessen the burden placed on Iraqi schools during the rule of Saddam Hussein.
“He knows what it’s like not to have all the privileges we do have here in America,” said Beverly Evans, Jose’s tutor in the Reading One to One program. “Being that he had come from that kind of background, it kind of helped him to have some empathy for those children over there.”
Jose was born in Mexico and came to the United States five years ago when he was 6 years old. Since coming to America, he has realized how lucky he is.
“I was born in Mexico, where there aren’t that many opportunities to have the things you want,” Jose said. “So then I thought about how the Iraqi children would feel not having the things they need.”
With generosity on his mind and with the help of Evans, Jose approached the principal and his teacher with the idea. Both approved it with enthusiasm, and the project got under way.
During the last week of February, Jose and Evans placed a box labeled “Donations for Iraqi School Children” in each classroom. Jose explained to the classes that the schools in Iraq had been destroyed and were in great need of supplies.
“We thought maybe we would just get a box full,” Evans said. “So we put a box in every class figuring we would just move it all into one.”
In one week, the children at Franklin Elementary gathered enough to fill five computer-paper boxes with pencils, notepads, crayons and scissors, among other items.
“We were just really quite surprised by how generous everyone was,” Evans said.
One class even donated hard-earned “money” to the Iraqi children. In Mrs. Willis’s class, the children used fake money earned for good behavior to buy items from their teacher and then donated them to the Iraqi children, said Rhonda Hinckley, Evans’ supervisor for the Reading One to One program.
Once the donations were gathered, the boxes were all collected and prepared for shipping. As a donation to the cause, Girl Scout Troop 1185 gave their funds from last years cookie sales, $96, to send four of the five boxes to Iraq.
“They [the girl scouts] could have used their money to have an outing or a party but they really wanted to be a part of something bigger,” Hinckley, who is also their troop leader, said. “I am so proud they made the choice to sacrifice something they didn’t really need to provide something necessary for someone.”
On March 1, the four boxes were shipped to Baghdad, where National Guard Sgt. Robert Ingels was going to distribute the items to the children and schools. The fifth box was sent after teachers and other patrons took up a collection to raise the money.
It was Ingels who first inspired Jose to begin the donation project. As a writing assignment from Evans, Jose began to e-mail Ingels about Iraq and what it was like to be there.
“It was in the process [of writing Ingels] that Jose found out just how underprivileged the children are over there,” Evans said.
In his e-mails, Ingels would mention the horrible conditions in Iraq. He often reminded Jose of how lucky he was to live in the United States.
Evans said Ingels once told Jose that the children in Iraq had teeth that were black and decaying. Jose asked Ingels if it would help to send toothbrushes.
In another e-mail, Ingels mentioned to Jose that school supplies were in great need in Iraq. It was through that e-mail that the idea for the project came to be.
“I thought it would be a good thing sending stuff to people who don’t have what we have in the United States,” Jose said.
Like many American soldiers in Iraq, Ingels discovered that under the regime of Hussein, the schools and education had been severely neglected. The schoolhouses were in horrible condition, mostly due to the effects of the war.
“He [Ingels] told Jose that the schools had to be destroyed because the bad guys were hiding in there,” Evans said.
In a radio address, President George W. Bush discussed the tragedies that had befallen Iraq’s educational system under Hussein’s rule.
“During the decades of Saddam Hussein’s oppression and misrule, all Iraqis suffered, including children,” Bush said. “While Saddam built palaces and monuments to himself, Iraqi schools crumbled.”
Since the end of Hussein’s regime, over a thousand schools have been rebuilt and reopened, Bush said.
The children in Baghdad received the shipment of supplies sent by Franklin Elementary during the second weekend in March. The people in Iraq were excited, Janine Ingels said. The younger children were especially excited because of the crayons and all of the students were in awe at the length of the pencils.
“I hope other children would be able to do what I am doing and help other people,” Jose said. “It’s a good thing to serve others.”
Jose has set a wonderful example for all who hear his story, but he has set a special example for other children.
“I hope they [children] all see that there are many things in the world that could be better,” Hinckley said. “And that it only takes one person to start making a change for the better.”