February 15, 1999
WOODINVILLE--Woodinville students are rallying around a local politician's bid to upgrade wells and latrines in a west African country.
But they're taking it to another level. Students at Timbercrest Junior High and East Ridge Elementary are collecting school supplies and funds to pay for tuition for kids in war-torn Sierra Leone.
Sandy Kope's first-graders hope to raise at least $40, the amount needed to pay for one student's schooling in the country. The kids are looking in dryers, on floors, and wherever else loose change turns up, she said.
"I've already got a jar half full, and it's been two days," said Kope last Thursday.
The school that will benefit was founded privately in 1990, but was recently looted and vandalized by rebels, according to Kope. Sierra Leone is going through a civil war.
Kope found out about the need for money and supplies from her daughter, Rachel, a Timbercrest student. Her class wrote to students in the country and recently received letters back. Kope described one note from a 13-year-old girl as a "plea." The girl asked if she could come live with her, but also for school supplies and anything else that could help out.
Rachel took the letter to her church, Evergreen Mennonite, and after reading it to members, got them involved in helping the small country which is home to over 4 million people. It's a land of mangrove swamps, seasonal rice farmers, and little electricity, a place where one of every five children born there dies before reaching the age of five, due to water-borne diseases.
Last August, this newspaper detailed Woodinville Water District Commissioner Walter Backstrom's drive to raise $10,000 to dig and line new wells and construct better toilets in the villages of Kathakera and Gbainkfay-Memankay. So far, Backstrom has collected about $4,000. Money goes to Water For People, a Denver-based worldwide water group, which will distribute it to an in-country relief agency.
Over at Timbercrest Junior High, there are plans for Sierra Leone Week from March 1 through 5. According to seventh-grade teacher Ann Parrish, it all started when Backstrom showed a video of what Water For People does. Afterwards, the school's Builders Club, comprised of seventh, eighth, and ninth graders, took up a school supply-raising drive. They are looking for soft, lightweight materials such as pencils, erasers, and plastic rulers, Parrish said.
Backstrom said that King County Executive Ron Sims has been asked to speak at Timbercrest during Sierra Leone Week. He said students might also write to First Lady Hillary Clinton, asking her to intervene in the war, and with Reverend Jesse Jackson, to negotiate a peace.
On a different front, Backstrom was recently met with a setback. Several weeks ago, the board of the Woodinville Water District voted 4-1 to include an opportunity for district customers to give money to Water For People. There would have been a line in customers' water bills, but separate from the bill, detailing how they could write a separate check that would benefit Sierra Leone. But according to manager Bob Bandarra, the state auditor's office advised against it.
Still, Backstrom plans to head over to Sierra Leone this summer with school supplies. He hopes other schools will get involved. "It's an opportunity for kids in a well-developed suburb to help kids in the least-developed country on earth," said Backstrom.