Among Lori Fitzgerald's fourth-graders at Forest View Elementary School in Mount Prospect, students speak nearly a dozen different languages at home, but they find a common voice when talking about their latest project: funding an orphanage in Malawi.
They started last month with the hopes of raising $1,550 to fund $10 hygiene kits for each of the 155 children at the orphanage. As of last week, they had raised more than $2,100, and now they've raised their goal to $3,100, or two kits for each child.
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"There are lots of orphans dying because of disease in Malawi," says Aarushi Sharma of Mount Prospect, "and their life expectancy keeps decreasing."
Their project developed last month, after students read an article about how students their age can make a difference. That got them thinking, they said, and then they read the book, "The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind."
In it, they learned about a boy born in Malawi, who dreams of bringing luxuries to his village, like electricity and water.
Their interest in Malawi took on new life when one of Fitzgerald's relatives told them about the Malawi Children's Mission, in a remote area of the tiny, south central African nation.
"We started researching Malawi and found out how poor it is," says Angelo Bravos, adding that only 6 percent of orphans receive medical care.
"We learned that hygiene kits would help the orphans take care of their health," Angelo added, "and get their life expectancy to grow higher."
Fitzgerald says the class brainstormed how they could raise money to buy the hygiene kits. They named their quest the Malawi Heart Fund, and each kit would contain a bar of soap, toothbrush, toothpaste, a handkerchief and waterless body washing powder.
Students set up stations during school conferences, which netted more than $500 in one night. That ignited their excitement and they made presentations in each classroom at their school, sent letters home to parents, designed posters and got some time at a Elk Grove Township Elementary District 59 board meeting.
Superintendent Art Fessler will visit the class in person this week, and they hope to interest TV celebrities, including Oprah Winfrey and Ellen DeGeneres. They plan to write a letter to the President and the First Lady.
"We want to go global," says Varsha Mullangi of Mount Prospect, "with Facebook and Twitter and other social media."
Her classmate, Jessica Les of Mount Prospect, said when the class developed a website, their project took flight because it allowed for online donating and messaging.
Fitzgerald says the project fits the common core state standards of 21st Century skills, including critical thinking, communication, collaboration and creativity. But more than that, she says, it demonstrates her students' heart.
"They've really taken off and run with this," Fitzgerald says. "I'm just their assistant."
Students in her class said they intend to fundraise until the end of the school year, and if all goes as planned, they hope to speak to the orphans via Skype during a phone call on June 11.
To learn more about their project and the Malawi Children's Mission, visit www.gofundme.com/Malawi-Heart-Fund.