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new jersey school kids in a classroom Members of the Global Care Unlimited Club at Tenafly Middle School hold up pictures of the school they helped establish in Assawa, Ethiopia. (Photo courtesy Viveca Riley)

U.S. Kids Build School in Ethiopia

New Jersey middle schoolers devoted to global citizenship

By Viveca Riley | December 13 , 2010

Thanks to a school club in Tenafly, New Jersey, children in a small village in Ethiopia now have their own place to learn. The Global Care Unlimited Club at Tenafly Middle School raised the money needed to establish a school half a globe away. The students there may soon be able to videoconference with their champions in the U.S. as teacher Mark Hyman's global citizenship project continues.

Hyman teaches at Tenafly Middle School. Two years ago he organized a human rights day at the school, which sparked new ideas for getting students more involved in the world. The first step was to start the Global Care Unlimited Club and to connect it with a global need.

"There are many children in need in Ethiopia and throughout the world," Hyman said. "It's up to the global citizens of the world to help them."

The club's first order of business was to create a project for underprivileged people abroad. The students came up with a simple yet complex concept: a school for students who had no place to learn!

Hyman turned to Yohannes Gebregeorgis, an Ethiopian educator and the creator of the first public library in Ethiopia. He has also been honored as a CNN Hero.

Gebregeorgis endorsed the student's project and helped them learn more about Ethiopia. He also taught them about what they would need to do to build a school in his country.

With Gebregeorgis's help, the middle school students settled on building a school in the village of Awassa. They then held a gebzha, the Ethiopian word for a gathering or African festival, to present their project. The gebzha resulted in new members who got busy making more presentations to other schools, local communities, and fundraising groups.

"I joined this club because I wanted to learn more about different people," said member Melissa N., 13. "I wanted to educate and help people in need."

As work on the school got under way, the students had a lot more to think about than the just the building. They also had to plan for teachers and decide whether this would be a public or private school. It was a big project for such young people, but Hyman said that is what his club is all about.

"Global citizenship does not have an age requirement nor limit," he said. "It all starts with the first step."

Fundraising became a necessary focus, something that got a big boost from NBA basketball star Magic Johnson. Johnson attended a high-profile fundraiser and donated money of his own.

"Magic Johnson's presence was enough to get people to come," Hyman said. "His energy and persona captured the audience from the moment he walked in."

With the money raised, the Friendship School in Ethiopia became a reality. Students decided on a private school with a fee. The Global Care Unlimited Club has pledged to make sure that all those who study hard will get the aid they need to attend. It was a great lesson for the kids who participated.

"I have now learned the global citizenship starts with the first step," said Camryn B., 11. "And that anyone can be a global citizen."

As for the school in Ethiopia, their next steps are to add English as a Second Langue (ESL) programs, electricity, computers, and their own version of a global citizenship club.

"Being a global citizen is being able to look at people you don't know and have compassion for them and want to help them," said club member Yonatan S., 13.

Member Veronica R., 13, had a message for students in the new school in Awassa.

"They should always study hard and to take hold of what they have," she said. "Don't take it for granted."

KIDS MAKE A DIFFERENCE

Scholastic's newest team of Kid Reporters take a look at what young people around the country are doing to help out the less fortunate this holiday season in the Kids Make a Difference Special Report.

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