Sixth Graders Collect Kits For Refugees

Sixth Graders Collect Kits For Refugees

In response to the novel, A Long Walk to Water, sixth grade students at Woodward North collected items to create hygiene kits for refugees and asylum seekers dropped off from the Stewart Detention Center at the Atlanta Airport. We talked to sixth grade teacher Alison Jones about the project and the impact it had on her students.

Beyond the Gate: Can you tell us a bit about A Long Walk to Water and how it influenced the development of this project? 

Alison Jones: A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park is one of the class novels selected for 6th grade reading at Woodward. It tells the incredible true story of Salva Dut walking over 800 miles to Ethiopia and Kenya as a refugee fleeing the civil war in South Sudan. The refugee/asylum seeker hygiene kit project was inspired by the novel because I thought it would be a meaningful response to the emotions that arise when reading his story. The students felt deep empathy for his character, and we had many class discussions about the suffering Salva endured to survive. I wanted to show the students that they can do something small, and it can still make a significant difference in the lives of other people. When they learn about the suffering in the world around them and begin feeling badly about it, I hope they will feel empowered to organize and take action in response to their feelings of empathy. 

BTG: What sorts of things did students collect for the hygiene kits, and how did they go about it?

AJ: They collected backpacks, water bottles, travel size toiletries, masks, shoelaces (the men have their shoelaces taken away from them when they enter Stewart Detention Center, and they are not given back when they are released), and gently used men's clothing. They were incredibly generous, and many of them brought in dozens of items to donate. An email was sent to the entire school, and many teachers donated items as well. We even had a couple of first graders in Mrs. Winfield's homeroom deliver hygiene kits to my classroom. Once we collected all of the items over two weeks, my homeroom used their morning meeting time to sort the donations. They used their desks to spread out and sort the items. Once everything was organized, they went around the room adding each item to the kits and into a backpack. I then brought the supplies in separate containers to the other homeroom and allowed the students to make kits one at a time during class. We made over 50 complete kits, and we donated bags full of leftover items. The students discussed how they wanted to organize everything, and I simply supervised. 

BTG: This seems like it's a great way to put empathy into action and reinforce lessons learned. How valuable is it for students to engage practically with a subject like this after reading about it? 

AJ: As I mentioned above, this was a deeply meaningful response to the empathy the students were feeling after reading our class novel. I cannot urge others enough to incorporate service opportunities into their classrooms and workplaces. The project was so meaningful to our students, they were thanking me repeatedly for "allowing them" to do this project.  

BTG: Have the kids said anything to you about what sort of impact this has had on them?

AJ: I sent a question to the kids on Google Classroom to ask them how the project impacted them, and here are a few direct quotes: 

"The Refugee hygiene kits made me feel even more grateful for what I have. These days, some people who are wealthy take it for granted. But when you look at these people, it makes you feel grateful for what you have, and it makes you want to help people in any way. For example, instead of buying that new game you wanted, give some money to a charity." -Laila M.

"The Hygiene Kits impacted me by reminding me of people who need help like refugees, and when I made the kit, I felt like I helped at least one refugee get to where they were going, easier." -Arsul D.

"Preparing the refugee hygiene kits impacted me by giving me a chance to know what the refugees are going through without their family. Making these kits made me want to help people a lot." -Jiya D.

"I think the refugee hygiene kit impacted me in a way that helped me open up to a new perspective of how other people around the world are not as fortunate as me, so helping those people made me feel happy." - Jude A.

"It gave me a better understanding about the refugees and about everyone else who needs those little items to get to where they need to go." -Arun P.

"I felt good inside knowing that I had helped another person out in this big wide world." - Evan E.

"I feel that even though it was something so small, that it actually will help someone a lot, so that made me happy that I helped someone going through something so hard." -Sofia W.

BTG: If people are interested in donating/helping, is there a link or contact info we can direct them to?

AJ: If people are interested in participating or implementing this work into their own classrooms, they can email me at alison.jones@woodward.edu. I am happy to send them more details. I partnered with my friend who is a local social worker in Atlanta. He coordinates the group who delivers the hygiene kits to the refugees/asylum seekers who are dropped off at the Atlanta Airport (with nothing) from the Stewart Detention Center in Lumpkin, Georgia.