- Associated Press - Sunday, June 5, 2016

WEST BURLINGTON, Iowa (AP) - The school year is winding down but the prospect of summer vacation did nothing to dampen fundraising efforts at West Burlington Elementary School.

Two weeks after launching Coins for Korah,s, parents and faculty raised $4,000 to send to an impoverished village in Ethiopia, The Hawk Eye (https://bit.ly/25CPa7s ) reported.

The school initially set out to raise $1,600 - a sum that would feed 40 families in the village for one month. But the school community far surpassed expectations and more than doubled their haul.

About 120,000 people live in extreme poverty in Korah, subsisting primarily from scraps of discarded food they can dig from the local trash dump. The community is comprised mostly of people with physical and mental disabilities and debilitating diseases nearly impossible to treat due to lack of medical resources. Korah is located in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, the nation’s capital and largest city.

Bria Mears of New London has spent the last yearandahalf living in Addis Ababa and working in Korah. The 22yearold and her mother, Toi Mears, visited Korah two years ago during a mission trip, prompting the young Mears to leave Grandview University in Des Moines and continue her mission work fulltime.

Toi Mears’ sister, Corina Shipp, a fifthgrade teacher at West Burlington Elementary School, orchestrated the fundraiser May 12.

“I’m completely overwhelmed by all the support from the parents the community and the students,” Shipp said. “They’ve really taken hold of this.”

Shipp said the majority of donations were cash and coins brought in by students and their parents. Students embraced the challenge to raise as much money as possible, hosting garage sales and lemonade stands and completing chores around town to contribute.

“I had a kid give all $90 of his Christmas money,” Shipp said. “I wish we could single out everyone. I’ve been here for nine years and they just come together for everything. It’s a wonderful place to work. I feel like West Burlington is special. I really, really think that.”

Amber Claypool’s firstgrade class collected the most money, $574.73, and secured the top prize - a water balloon fight on the last day of school.

“And because they did so well, we’re thinking about rewarding the top three classes,” Shipp said. “We want to reward them a lot because this was a huge accomplishment.”

Six classes at the school raised more than $200 during the fundraiser.

Not only did donations exceed expectations, but several families signed up to sponsor people in Korah through the Brook Hills Organization sponsorship program. Yemamu Ahmed, the organization’s founder, grew up in Korah and was sponsored through a charitable organization as a child, helping him to earn a college degree.

For $50 a month, people can commit to a yearlong sponsorship helping to cover a family’s rent, food and school expenses for their children.

Alicia Sherwood, a kindergarten teacher at West Burlington, has been hesitant in the past to donate to international charities because it can be difficult to know where the money is going and how it will be used. But because she knows the Mears family and learned so much about Brook Hills though the school fundraiser, she committed to sponsoring a family in Korah.

“Knowing that money for the organization is going directly to Korah and going to the families to help improve their lives, I think that’s why so many people are jumping on board,” Sherwood said.

A profile of the family she sponsors already has come in the mail, allowing Sherwood to make an instant connection between her donation and its recipients. The family consists of a mother who works in construction, her two daughters and her grandmother, who is blind.

Although the family was assigned to Sherwood randomly, the resemblance to her own family - her husband also works in construction and her children are the same age as those in Korah - further reassured her the sponsorship was meant to be.

“Just to know that the $50 a month for this family is going to help pay their rent and fix up their home. … it’s just amazing how God has helped bring us together.”

Fellow kindergarten teacher Amber Springsteen and her husband, Mike, have chosen to sponsor 10 families in Korah.

“We’ve been following Bria’s journey, my husband and I, and a couple of years ago when she first went to Korah we committed to a monthly donation to help her with her living expenses,” Springsteen said.

In addition to monetary gifts, local families have assembled large Ziplock bags with toys, clothes, candy, a picture of their family and nearly anything they can stuff into the bag.

“I believe, and I know from what I’ve read, there are definitely needs here in our community but they don’t even compare to the people living off of the trash dump,” she said. “I know the reason Mike and I chose to sponsor so many families is because these people are hopeless and have been outcasts and have lots of diseases. They’ve been shunned and so we want to give them some hope.”

Mears will depart on her 17hour journey to Addis Ababa Sunday and remain there for a month working with children and families in Korah, in addition to school children in the city’s countryside where she will deliver an iPad she bought to help children read. Mears and Jodie Coleman, a firstgrade teacher at Clark Elementary School in New London, along with the Look Development organization, developed a reading curriculum last May that was installed on the iPads and given to a school in Shone, a rural community outside of Addis Ababa.

In addition to her work on the ground in Ethiopia, Mears and her husband, Troy, are in the process of adopting a 10yearold boy and an 8yearold girl from Korah.

“I certainly do not want to get all the glory for this amazing work that is being done through the people,” Mears said. “I am the blessed one getting to deliver.”


Information from: The Hawk Eye, https://www.thehawkeye.com

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