One Penny At a Time: Pennies For Peace Helps One Village Realize the Dream of Education
Dasht School, in Tajikistan, is a story of unwavering faith in the power of education, despite obstacles both societal and natural. The people of Dasht and surrounding villages held classes for their children in unfinished classrooms too small to hold the number of children who want to learn. In December of 2015, a devastating earthquake destroyed the already crumbling structure, leaving the school children without a safe place to learn. Pennies for Peace, CAI’s service-learning program for schools, clubs, and groups, is determined to raise the funds needed to finally give the deserving students a safe, updated place to learn.
Dasht School is located in Tajikistan’s Rushan District. Life is difficult in the shadows of the Pamir Mountain range, and inhabitants endure long winters with few options to earn a living. Most families create a meager living from raising livestock and hope that an education will provide their children a better life.
For several villages in this district, Dasht School formed the foundation of that hope. Construction on the school began in 1991 by the local government while the Soviet Union was still in control of the country. Unfortunately, the school building never reached completion. When the Tajikistan declared independence in 1991, the supplies and funding disappeared and classrooms were left unfinished.
The Unfinished School
In 1996 the villagers attempted to repair and finish the school, but they could only patch-up five classrooms while another five remained unfinished. With no other options and without the funds to finish the repairs, students and teachers cobbled together classes in the half-finished building. Currently, there are 47 students (grade 1 through grade 9) and an additional 13 pre-school students enrolled in an early childhood development program.
Disaster struck on December 7, 2015 when a large earthquake shook the valley. The old Soviet construction crumbled, and the damaged Dasht School is beyond repair.
Many families fled to relatives’ homes in Rushan district, and the children were sent to the Rushan boarding school, but this was only a temporary solution as most families needed to move back to tend to their animals. Currently, there is only one safe classroom available for all the students. Some teachers have opted to conduct classes in the two least damaged rooms from the old building. The dream of the school seemed to crumble along with the school walls, but living in the mountains taught the people of Dasht resiliency and they are determined to rebuild.
The Power of a Penny
This is where Pennies for Peace (P4P) can make a big difference. P4P is a service-learning program where participants collect pennies to donate to CAI projects while learning about the cultures of people in Central Asia and the large impact that something as small as a penny can have on those less fortunate. Most participants are students and teachers, and P4P has created a common core curriculum with lessons to go along with penny collecting initiatives in classrooms.
When program director Alanna Brown heard about Dasht School and the desire of the villagers to educate their children, she knew she had to help. She had a hunch the teachers, students, and other groups running P4P programs would want to help the Dasht students too, so she decided to ask all new P4P participants to collect pennies for building materials and supplies to give the children of Dasht a new building with modern classrooms and plenty of supplies to ensure they get a good education.
Students of All Ages Mobilize with Pennies for Peace
Already, schools in the U.S. are collecting pennies to help Dasht School, and the students are learning they can create change with something as small as a penny. With their help, our partner program, Central Asia Institute – Tajikistan, will build a new school for children in kindergarten and grades 0 – 4 with four modern classrooms filled with all the supplies the students need to start their futures.
The total project cost is $40,000, which is a lot of pennies. Alanna is confident the story of Dasht School will inspire students and community groups across the country to get involved, learn about new cultures, and donate their pennies to help. It will take a big collective effort to reach this goal, but we are determined to succeed.
P4P Challenges Students Here and Helps Those Abroad
The Dasht students aren’t the only ones who will benefit from this effort. P4P programs challenge participants to explore different cultures around the world, including their own. Through free lesson plans that meet common core standards for elementary, middle, and high school, students learn about cultures in Central Asia and how life for the Dasht students can be similar to their own lives. They also learn that small acts of kindness can have huge impacts. After all, 12 pennies equal one pencil; 70 pennies equal one notebook; 30 pennies equal one chalkboard, and $1,000 equals one teacher’s salary.
Just like the students attending Dasht School are the future of Tajikistan, the students and children taking part in P4P programs are the future leaders of America. Given the right tools early on, they all have the opportunity to change the world and create a lasting peace.
If you’re interested in starting a P4P campaign for your school, Girl Scout or Boy Scout troop, church group, or book club, you can find more information here. We can’t wait to update you on Dasht School and all the other programs we are working on this year.