Magazine article Montessori Life

Pennies for Peace

Magazine article Montessori Life

Pennies for Peace

Article excerpt

What happens when you cross an extraordinary vision with extraordinary Montessori mothers? You get Pennies for Peace, a remarkable program in which children across the country collected pennies to build a school for their peers in northern Pakistan. In November 2003, Montessori School of Evergreen parents Liz Little and Angelica Sorge (Sorge is also a teacher at the school) had the opportunity to hear Greg Mortenson speak in Evergreen, CO. Mortenson is the visionary behind the Central Asia Institute (CAI), a small but vibrant non-profit that builds schools for children in areas of northern Pakistan and in Afghanistan where, in many cases, schools have never existed.

Little and Sorge were inspired by the humanity of the stories that Mortenson told: of people so eager to give their children the opportunity of education that they donated their land and their labor for new schools; and people who gladly offer education to all of their children-not just to their sons (of the 8,200 children enrolled in CAI schools, 3,400 are girls!). And these schools are a success: CAI children perform better in school than the average child in Pakistan (in 2003, fifth graders in CAI schools averaged 72% on standardized tests compared to the national average for Pakistan of 44%).

Mortenson also recounted his experiences in Pakistan on September 11,2001. Most of the people in northern Pakistan have never seen a city, let alone skyscrapers of the magnitude of the World Trade Center's twin towers. Yet when they heard of the terrorist attack and the resulting loss of lives, they gathered to grieve with Mortenson. One very old and poor woman brought him six eggs-to her, invaluable possessions-and asked him to take them to the World Trade Center widows.

CAI has a program called Pennies for Peace, born out of the most significant (and one of the first) donations the organization ever received-the contents of the piggy bank of a little boy in an elementary school in Minnesota. While a penny has no real value in the United States, it can buy a pencil in Pakistan. Little and Sorge decided to get as many Montessori schools as possible together in a 12-state region to try to raise 2.5 million pennies ($25,000)-enough money to build and endow a school in Pakistan.

The idea took off! Children in Montessori and even non-Montessori communities discovered unique ways to try and collect pennies. One child, whose family was celebrating a wedding, asked if cards could be placed in the invitations requesting that guests bring pennies to the ceremony. …

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