It's no secret that the children of Uganda are underprivileged. Hunkering down in a country torn asunder by near-constant warfare, these young men and women are barely able to find shelter, let alone get a good education.
Halfway around the world, students from Lehighton Area High School are doing their part in bringing some light into the lives of their African peers, one page at a time.
For the past three years, the high school students have been a part of Books of Hope, a Madison, Wis.-based nonprofit organization that partners with schools across America to bring books, a precious commodity in third world classrooms, and other supplies to students in Uganda. The most impressive facet of the program is that the books all are hand made by the students, and include information that the amateur authors feel is essential to a well-rounded education. During the 2009-2010 school year, the LAHS chapter of Books of Hope produced 150 student-created books.
"This year, the students really took their work to the next level," Christi Marchetti, LAHS language arts teacher and Books of Hope coordinator, said. "The students created books on a wide range of topics, including geography, science and history. You name it, and we've got it."
To compose each book, the students underwent countless hours of research, gathering information on the current state of affairs in Uganda in an attempt to understand the situation of the children they were helping. Special attention was given to the Lord's Army, a Ugandan militia that displaces children, turning them into child soldiers through kidnapping and torture.
Books of Hope has partnered LAHS with Idobo Primary School, where Marchetti said Ugandan students, "not only overcome trauma, but also receive valuable learning experiences."
Yet the Lehighton students are learning just as much as, if not more than, the students they are helping.
"The key point we're trying to show is that school is not about focusing on just one subject at a time, but about blending all areas of study together," LAHS principal Timothy Tkach said. "Students have been incorporating all they've been learning into these books.
"To see how much depth and professionalism these books have gained over the past three years is impressive."
In addition to providing insight into more traditional areas of study, the Lehighton students put together a special book detailing the history and culture of their hometown. The administration at Idobo later sent pictures of the school's seventh grade class marveling at the book's pictures, ones depicting, what is to them, a remote, alien destination.
"We're a small town school," Marchetti said, "but these pictures show us that we're able to spread our wings and touch people all the way around the world."
This year's Books of Hope program was sponsored in part by the Jim Thorpe National Bank, which donated $500 to help facilitate the books' creation. To thank the bank for the gift, students from Marchetti's tenth grade Academic English class met with bank CEO and President Craig Zurn and displayed examples of their handiwork.
"The efforts of these students represent a great character and upbringing," Zurn said. "We need more of this kind of work in our community. This truly is inspiring."
Zurn suggested that the students present their work in front of the bank's board of directors, something he plans to mention to the board at its upcoming annual meeting.
LAHS sophomore Kacie Haupt expressed her interest in continuing her work with Books of Hope during the meeting with Zurn.
"When I first heard about the program, I didn't know what needed to be done, but the more I learned, the more I wanted to get involved," she said. "I love helping people and going out of my way to make their lives better."