'Nobody wants to get their clothes and food out of a garbage truck'

'Nobody wants to get their clothes and food out of a garbage truck'

TUALATIN, Ore. -- You might never meet 12 more determined people than a group in Tualatin.

The interesting part is that they're all fifth-grade students whose native language is not English.

Students in Kelly Hagen's English Language Development class at Bridgeport Elementary School are pulling out all of the stops to help Burundi, a country of approximately 10.5 million people in Central Africa. Burundi is a country where only half of children go to school. A 2002 study revealed that 68 percent of the entire population lived below the poverty line.

Through a mutual friend, Hagen got in touch with Emery Ninganza, the executive secretary at the non-profit Artisove Organization in Burundi, and he answers questions from the students about everyday life in Burundi. Ninganza sent pictures to Hagen of the poverty levels of the people in Burundi. She showed the pictures to her students to see if they wanted to figure out a way to help the children of Burundi.

The reaction from students was instant. They were primed for the chance to help.

"These guys are awesome," said Hagen, who is in her second year teaching at Bridgeport. "This is a passionate group."

Hagen has run programs similar to this, focusing on Hong Kong and England, when she taught at Hazelbrook and Templeton, two other schools within the district. However, the programs never really gained the traction from students that this year has seen. That's due in part to the grim photos of the conditions people in Burundi have to endure on a daily basis.

"As soon as they saw the pictures my friend sent of the people in this tiny town going through the garbage to get their clothing and food, it really got to these guys and they wanted to know what they could do to help," Hagen said.

Students also saw video of the people of Burundi struggling to survive.

"(Mrs. Hagen) showed us some videos on YouTube and we saw kids chasing a trash cart for their food and clothes," said student Monse Rosas.

With the jarring photos and videos still fresh in their minds, the students decided to come up with a fund-raiser. They wanted to get clothes donated so the students could send those clothes to the needy in Burundi at the end of November, hopefully arriving in Burundi in time for Christmas. But the donation of clothes is only half the battle. They will still have to raise $1,000.

"That will help us send the clothes over there," said student Johana Jacintos.

The group wants to ship about 1,000 articles of clothing to Burundi and so far, they're estimating they've had approximately 400 articles of clothing donated, but that's not enough for this group. They're doing everything they can do raise as much awareness about their project as possible, hoping donations will roll in. They're having their project announced over the speaker system at the school to alert other students in the school. On this Tuesday, the students will give up their recess time to count up the fliers to be distributed to each class and then go around to different classes at Bridgeport to spread the message.

But the students aren't just sticking to their school to raise awareness of their project. A newspaper class of middle school students at an Escondido, Calif., heard about the Bridgeport students taking on the project. They set up a Skype interview with Hagen's class for a story and as they began to tell the Escondido students about the project, it was clear their passion for the project came through.

"Now they're getting going to do it, too," said student Janet Gonzales.

Hagen said the middle school students will send out a notice to the entire Escondido Union School District about the project, hoping to garner more donations.

Students at other schools within the Tigard-Tualatin School District -- Fowler, Hazelbrook and Tigard High School -- are also involved in the project. However, it seems clear that this group of 12 tiny, but determined students will make a small, but real change to people in a different country they've never met.


"We're trying really hard to get it going because it's really sad," Perez said. "Nobody wants to get their clothes and food out of a garbage truck. We just want to change their lives ... God gave birth to us, so we have to help other people who need help."

Hagen has set up the Facebook page Kids Helping Kids in Burundi to raise more awareness for the project. Anyone who wants to donate clothes can drop off clothes at the school by the Nov. 30 deadline. Monetary donations can be mailed to the school, in care of Hagen.