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First-hand brush with poverty in Ethiopia
inspires Grade 4 student to act

Stefania Lamacchia
Jun 06, 2007

Can you imagine school without pencils? Hannah Godefa certainly can’t and this nine year old is making sure children in Ethiopia won’t have to, either.

When visiting her homeland last summer, Hannah was devastated by the poverty. On her return to Canada, she organized Pencil Mountain to raise 20,000 pencils to donate to Ethiopian students. “It made me feel bad knowing that I have 50 or 60 sharpened pencils in my house that I don’t use and the kids in Ethiopia have nothing,” said Hannah, a Grade 4 student at Divine Mercy elementary school in Maple.

In September, Hannah approached her school principal and told him about her campaign. “It was a good idea but I wasn’t enthusiastic about it,” said principal Opiyo Oloya. His initial hesitancy was prompted by the student’s young age and whether Hannah was really serious about helping African children, Mr. Oloya said. But Hannah would prove the power of persistence.

“I have never encountered anybody in Grade 4 who has come up with some idea to save the world,” he said. “She’s very committed and very focused.” Mr. Oloya describes Hannah as a smart girl whose understanding of poverty has a lot to do with her recent trip. “She saw the difference between the life she was leading here and the life of children her age there,” he said. “She realized she should be able to do something because she is a lot better off.”

After countless visits with her principal, Hannah spent the following months compiling a list of local businesses she hoped would participate in Pencil Mountain. With letters from Mr. Oloya and her father’s guidance, Hannah took on the Maple community, determined to make her pencil fundraising drive a success.

When visiting Maple Toyota one evening, general manager Corrado Longhin became one of many residents touched by Hannah’s efforts. “She was just pulling at my heart strings, telling me the children are writing in the sand with their finger because they don’t have basic writing utensils,” Mr. Longhin said. He was so moved by Hannah’s project he proposed a more ambitious plan to raise her original goal of 20,000 pencils to 200,000. “We’re in a very disposal society and the little things, like a pencil, can bring so much joy to a child in an impoverished country and we forget that here,” Mr. Longhin said.

In fact, the dealership has reserved one of their pick-up trucks for residents to walk in at any time and donate pencils for Hannah’s project. “The least our community can do is step up and give writing utensils to kids,” he said. And gathering support wasn’t difficult for Hannah. “Most people were very happy to help because their donation is a gift to other people,” she said.

Her real challenge is rounding up all the collected pencils and preparing them for shipping. The weight of the package alone will far exceed the cost of the actual pencils. To help offset the costs, Hannah’s father, Godefa Asegahagn, contacted the Ethiopian Embassy in Ottawa and KLM Royal Dutch Airlines. The airline has agreed to cover the freight cost, while the embassy has made sure the pencils arrive duty-free, such as in the case of humanitarian aid, Mr. Asegahagn said.

Hannah’s classmates helped count the pencils this week, so to have weight and cost information ready for the airline and embassy before takeoff. Hannah, her father and, of course, her pencils are set to take flight June 15. The young student has even saved $300 from her last birthday and Christmas, which she will use to purchase clothes for the needy back home.

“It’s great that other kids will share the same smile that I have when I can write,” she said. “You know ... pencils ... that’s just the start.”

To make a pencil donation, visit Maple Toyota at 88 Auto Vaughan Drive (Jane Street and Rutherford Road), or call 905-417-9100 for more information

Vaughan Jun 06, 2007 10:51 PM

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