National History Day Inspired by Commitment to Community

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This year as we set out to choose our NHD topic, based upon the 2018 theme, Conflict and Compromise, we thought back to our summer adventures on the Lakota Indian reservations, and we knew we had an historical story that needed to be explored.

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As we traveled throughout South Dakota, and witnessed first hand the difficulties encountered by present day Lakota’s, we asked ourselves, Why? and How did this happen?

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Location: Battle of Little Big Horn (Custard’s last Stand)

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Extensive research, that took us from South Dakota to Washington DC, NYC and back to CT, provided us with the information we needed to create our Nationally competitive theater performance, “From Sea to Shining Sea: The Conflict Over the Fort Laramie Treaties that Compromised American Values.” 

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We opened with a reminder of our founders’ original pledge to all Americans, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that ALL men are created equal…”

 

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We described battles won and lost between settlers and Indians, underscoring their differing perspectives.

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Sadly, as we quoted Rev. Burrell from the 1800’s, we found his words as applicable today as they were over 150 years ago,

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“Who shall be responsible for this event so dark and sorrowful? The history of our dealings with these Indian tribes from the very beginning is a record of fraud, and perjury, and uninterrupted injustice. We have made treaties, binding ourselves to the most solemn promises in the name of God, intending at that very time to hold these treaties light as air whenever our convenience should require them to be broken…. We have driven them each year further from their original homes and hunting- grounds…. We have treated them as having no rights at all…. We have made beggars of them.”

Black-Snake-poster-1-We did not fail to mention that the Keystone XL pipeline of 2016 continues to impinge upon Indian land and neglected agreements stemming from the original 1851 Fort Laramie Treaty. Notwithstanding assurances that, “These new pipelines are among the most technologically advanced ever constructed and exceed many state and federal guidelines.” (Craig Stevens, 2016), on November 18, 2017 South Dakota’s Keystone Pipeline spilled approximately 210 thousand gallons of oil into Amherst South Dakota.

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Liv sang “America the Beautiful,” reminding us that we are all Americans, striving for equality and a worthy life.

red cloud 2 We closed with Red Clouds famous words, They made us many promises, more than I can remember, but they never kept but one; they promised to take our land, and they took it.”

After 6 months of research, discussions and multiple performances, we finally had the answer to our question.

Current conditions on the Pine Ridge reservation are a direct result of the failure of the US government to live up to the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1851.

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Our team was honored to receive the Native American Award at the NHD National Contest in Washington DC.

IMG_3746We received $1,000 in prize money, and we knew immediately that we had one more place to go before our 2018 NHD project was complete.

IMG_3757 (1)Back to Red Cloud Indian School on Pine Ridge Reservation.

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We met with Tamatane l’atala and discussed the most pressing needs of students at the Red Cloud School.

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Tamatane l’atala told us that Red Cloud Indian School is committed to teaching Lakota, both as a primary and as a secondary language to elementary and middle school students.

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By learning the Lakota language, Lakota children gain a tremendous sense of pride. We know that feeling good about oneself is the first building block needed for success.  We happily donated our NHD funds to the Lakota language program of Red Cloud Indian School.

Now we can study Lakota on their website Lakota Language Project as we prepare for our next visit to Pine Ridge!

Boxes of Blankets Delivered: to Syrian Refugees Residing in Jordan

When our friend Mark approached us with his latest endeavor; Collect One, we were delighted to participate. Mark had a simple idea, if each of his colleagues collected one item, but at least 50 boxes of that item, collectively we would be able to send an entire shipping container of needed items to a refugee camp in Jordan.

We decided to send blankets, as our books are mostly written in English.

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Our blankets are all handmade, and as we were heading to Destination Imagination Global Finals in Knoxville, TN, we decided to bring all our fabrics with us for a grand international adventure in blanket making.

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The kids at DI helped tremendously, and everywhere we went we gathered our friends and busily made blankets. Finally our quota was complete.

We were able to join the caravan of cars circling the block in Brooklyn as car after car unloaded their boxes.

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Our blankets joined hundreds of others. Mark’s trucks and container was overflowing. He called a friend and was able to immediately secure and fill an entire second container!

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We were invited to join the small group journeying to Jordan to directly distribute the various items, however we were unable to join.

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Mark brought back pictures, and stories, and a determination to do it all again!

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We are so grateful

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to be able to

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help in this small way

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and to know that our blankets

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are keeping children warm in Jordan!

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Favorite item internationally: the soccer ball!

5,000 School Books Reach Nigeria

By Sebastian 

This month, Wonderland BookSavers shipped 100 boxes of books, adding up to  5,000 total books, to Nigeria! This is our first shipment there, and we’re so excited to be able to make a contribution, thanks to our awesome liaison on the ground, Mark Grashow! The state of education in Nigeria is very dire, with more children out of school than anywhere else in the world; 40% of primary school-age kids do not ever attend school. Nigeria’s population growth over the last decade has made it even more difficult for the already struggling government to provide basic public services. This has especially impacted education, with about half of the current population under the age of 15. In many parts of Nigeria, there are simply not enough schools, and children often have to walk many miles to get there. Unfortunately, even where there are schools closer together, these schools frequently lack proper facilities such as a water-proof structure, toilets, books, basic school supplies and qualified teachers. Moreover, families often need children to go to work to help support their survival. In fact, perhaps one of the biggest factors is that families cannot afford to pay the required fees for uniforms and school books.

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Our hope is that we can provide some relief to schools and families by providing those needed books directly, so that the quality and possibility of education might be a little improved for some children. We are so grateful to try to do a little part to make sure that Nigerian children can get access to education which we so often take for granted!

IMG_2871Packed by The Wonderland BookSaver Team!

Handmade Books Arrive in Haitian Hands

We are so gratified to have received this letter and these wonderful photographs:

Dear John and Josh and Wonderland BookSavers,

The children of Fondation Jean Bellande Joseph in Cayes-Jacmel send heartfelt thanks for the beautiful books created by the students in John McMillan and Josh Cummings’ French classes from Von Steuben Metropolitan Science Center in Chicago, and delivered to us by Allie through Wonderland BookSavers.

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The books were a stunning success!

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First, there were enough for everyone, which is a big issue in the distribution of gifts. Very few students have books of their very own outside required textbooks and access to our growing library.

 

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Our kids immediately grasped the hard work that went into the composition and illustration of the books, and the laminating insured their longevity – so necessary in Haiti.

 

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There was a book about a pig given to one of the girls who shared the same name and that provoked a torrent of giggles. (Her friends all that that was very appropriate.)

 

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Standing up to read your books was an important exercise in public speaking.

 

Our students, aged 3-19, are in primary and secondary schools in a semi-rural area outside Jacmel, on the South coast of Haiti. Their parents are subsistence farmers who live on about $1.25 per day. Most of their parents are illiterate and really struggle to keep their kids fed, clothed and in school. We provide scholarships, food and job training to 67 kids in this area who spend every Saturday with us. Many of the kids in the photographs are much older than they look because their growth was stunted by malnutrition in early childhood but they are thriving now with us!

 

You might be interested to know that the administrator of our program, who is a Haitian Education Department official, said that most Haitian children would not be able to produce books like this because they are not encouraged to do any kind of creative writing. They generally learn by rote and don’t have the resources or tradition of branching out into projects like this. We have challenged our kids to develop books of their own and I hope they’ll be inspired by your models.

 

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Please thank all the students whose talent and care brought such delight to our kids.

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Very best wishes to you all,

Susy Whitcomb

Haitian Education Initiatives

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Wonderland BookSavers, Inspiring with Literature

By Claire Langdon

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These are the Haitian children who will receive these beautiful books!

Recently, team Wonderland BookSavers has been pursuing a new facet of our outreach: not only are we continually dedicated to our original mission to spread our love of literature by salvaging books and donating them to children globally, but we are also striving to generate a multiplied impact by connecting a global community over service and literature.

Over the past four months, our team collaborated with Mr. John McMillan’s French students from Von Steuben Metropolitan Science Center in Chicago to address a problem facing schools in Haiti. Many schools, teachers, and students lack the literary resources needed to encourage a literate, educated community. To continue our preexistent efforts to bring books to schools in Haiti, as well as to involve our friends with similar goals in Chicago, we developed a relationship in which these students compose children’s stories in French, and we act as the conduit through which they can be successfully and usefully donated. Our community partner Susy Whitcomb at Haitian Education Initiatives will personally deliver the books to Jacmel, Haiti in March.

Not only will the recipients benefit from the practice and variety afforded by these books, but they will be the beneficiaries of impressive authorship and meticulous illustrations. The time and creativity that have very evidently been applied to these books are manifestations of the genuine care and interest going into the project and towards the Haitian children. Included below are a few of these books!

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As a result of this effort, two geographically separate communities are being connected with literature as the liaison. Our team is excited to further our mission by continuing to create a network not only within our immediate community, but with others across the world. We hope that another collaborative opportunity to illustrate books, write letters, or otherwise expand our global, literature-inspired community arises soon! Just as team Wonderland BookSavers is “inspired by literature,” we hope to spark that same inspiration in others across the world.

South Africa: Weighing-In at 129 Boxes

We like to get most of our books boxed and on the road before the first snowfall, but somehow we missed that deadline this year, so we put on our warm coats and boots and headed for the garage…

These books are all heading for South Africa, which has fairly strict importation guidelines.  Every box must be accurately labeled and weighed.

This was an excellent job for our treasurer and stellar statistician, Reid.

IMG_2282As well as for our most junior member, Wills, who is just learning his numbers.

Treasurer in training!

IMG_0774.JPGMany pounds of books! I think we can count loading the truck as gym class today.

IMG_2272Claire is managing to box books, load the truck, and attend her OHS classes!

IMG_0771.JPGIMG_0781.JPGFinally our garage is (almost) empty, and it is (almost) Christmas.

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The Prayer of St. Francis

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace,
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
Where there is sadness, joy;  

O Divine Master,
Grant that I may not so much seek
To be consoled as to console;
To be understood as to understand;
To be loved as to love.                                    Merry Christmas to All, and to all, A Good Night!

Fall Renewal: 10,000 Books for Zimbabwe; 100 Pen Pal Letters Exchanged

As summer comes to an end, many schools along the East Coast begin preparing for the new school year. This means clearing out their shelves. For us, at Wonderland BookSavers, this is an excellent time of year. We hopped in our Suburban and began visiting our favorite schools from Massachusetts to Connecticut.

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The Wetherbee School, in Massachusetts, has been especially generous. They truly understand the concept of charity. Working with their teachers, school children help to determine books, games and “manipulatives” as well as classroom posters and other tools that are no longer needed. Students then organize, prepare and box items for shipment to Africa. They are so excited and happy to know that they are actively helping other children. They compete for the opportunity to load our Suburban and take photos with us!

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As members of a Title I school, the children here are themselves frequent recipients of aid. Hailing from at least 35 countries, with many of the children describing rice and beans as their favorite food, these students eagerly share stories of daily life in America.

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Although it takes almost one year for their Pen Pal letters to make a round trip from Mbembeswana Primary School in Zimbabwe to Wetherbee School in Lawrence MA, they are thrilled that they can share their love of books, games and food with African children. We are so grateful to be the conduit for this truly snail-paced child-to-child mail system.

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Many other schools have been eager to help us in our mission to spread literacy. Librarians eagerly contact us as they prepare for the new school year.

They are delighted that their favorite books will keep inspiring children.

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And we are happy to help them box and relocate their books from their libraries to our fabulous sorting area: our garage!

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Here we sort our books by age, subject, and intended destination, so that each region will get appropriate material. Some countries require us to weigh and quantify every box. Finally, we load our boxes onto trucks.

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From here they get loaded onto shipping containers and finally set off on their long journey across the sea, to another continent, 10,000 books, school supplies, pencils, crayons, and most importantly, 100’s of letters of encouragement from children just like themselves in America.

IMG_9907.JPGThe Wonderland BookSavers are grateful to have been able to connect so many children from across the continents and to inspire a shared love of reading, our tagline: Inspired by Literature!

“Sometimes, I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”
– Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll

Boxing Books: An Inspirational Visit by Sebastian

One day last summer, I went for what I thought was going to be a regular day of hanging out with my new friends Pierce, Brooks, Emma, Claire, and Maddie from my school, little did I know I’d end up crashing a Wonderland BookSavers meeting and boxing books in their garage and having an absolute blast!!! But besides having fun, I was mostly deeply inspired by their dedicated work to bring books and literature to those without. When I got in the car to go home, I told to my mom I’d felt like I’d been wasting so much of my life when I could have been really making a difference in the world. I am so inspired by my friends and since then I’ve tried to help in any way I can.

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My pastor likes to quote Sojourner Truth’s wise words that “Religion without humanity is very poor human stuff,” and for me it was really amazing to see my friends, my very same age, making such a direct and tangible difference for humanity.

During the week, I live in Brooklyn, so I figured maybe I could help by reaching out to schools in my community there. Two amazing private schools in Brooklyn were just as inspired by Wonderland BookSavers and were eager to contribute.

The first school to reach out to us was The Berkeley Carroll School. Berkeley Carroll has been so incredibly generous to the Wonderland BookSavers mission— Thank you Berkeley Carroll! The librarians there, Ms. Briar Suaro and Ms. Kristine Hartley-Maneri, have been so kind in reaching out whenever they have books to share and have donated some 50 boxes of books to date!

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The Brooklyn Friends School was also eager to contribute and offered us a great number of books as well. For the first pick-up, Ms. Ryan and I arranged to meet at the entrance where they could most easily unload the books on Pearl Street in downtown Brooklyn. Picking up books on one-way streets in Brooklyn can always be a little tricky — you usually have to block a little traffic but we try to do it quickly! — and Ms. Ryan warned us we’d have to do some slightly illegal maneuvering in order to get to the unloading spot. But as it turned out, we never had to worry about that because when we went to pick up the books that day we discovered a street fair! A two-block radius around Brooklyn Friends had been blocked off and filled with street vendors! Never daunted, the kind custodian of the school loaned me a dolly so that I could wheel the books down Willoughby Street to where my mom was waiting with the car on the other side. I wonder if those books will always have a faint kabob smell?

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Here we are re-boxing books into smaller boxes in Brooklyn before bringing them up to Connecticut to the Barry’s garage!

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We also live upstate on the weekends and so I started looking around up there for other opportunities to find books for Wonderland BookSavers too. We found two libraries that were willing to donate all the books they had left over after their annual book sale fundraisers. First we visited the Pawling library, who kindly gave us a generous stack of books (they will be able to give us even more this spring!) And then we visited the Patterson library. Ms. Graham at the Patterson Library so generously offered to donate all of the remainder children’s books from their library! Thank you Patterson Public Library!

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Finally, we brought the books to the Barry’s garage!

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Oh and that’s my sister Emmeline — she has been helping with all of the book moving and packing too and says “Wonderland BookSavers really is a Wonderland because it’s so fun and also kind-of like Magic.” I think she said it perfectly.

Hurricane Harvey: One Ton of Support for Houston by Emma

Hurricane Harvey decimated much of Houston and surrounding areas this past August.

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Although many communities are now fully functioning, there are those that are still suffering. With close ties to the Houston community, we felt that it was incumbent upon Wonderland BookSavers to reach out and provide assistance.

When residing in Houston, we attend The Woodlands United Methodist Church. This church became a central collection and distribution point, providing needed items for people who were suddenly homeless.

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People collected and donated all the materials others needed, and then the ones affected by the hurricane would come in and “shop” for whatever they needed.   We felt so distant, being in Connecticut, so we decided to reach out to our community and collect supplies and books to ship to Houston.

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Despite the fact that it is now November, we have heard that there are schools that remain closed, schools that have lost their entire libraries due to flooding. These schools reached out to us and were very eager for us to send them 1,000’s of books to jumpstart their collections. Additionally, as we searched for shipping and trucking options, we found districts whose children were still in need of basic home goods to replace lost items.

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WBS member Ella attends St. Thomas School, and they generously put a gigantic bin in their hallway to collect cleaning supplies, clothes, bedding, canned food, pet food, and books. We were incredibly grateful for this thoughtful gesture.   We have partnered with St. Thomas in the past, as they have given us books and shoes. My sister says that St. Thomas is the kindest school in America, and I can definitely see why that is true.  After several weeks, our bin was overflowing with donations from all the children, families, and teachers.

The children from St. Thomas also made hundreds of thoughtful, kind, and supportive letters to deliver to the victims of the hurricane.

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It was so sweet reading these letters, and knowing that someone across the country will feel loved.

After collecting the supplies and the letters, we packed everything up into our car (the supplies were nearly overflowing!)

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Next, we brought everything to our garage…

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and employed eager Boy Scouts from our community, who helped box the supplies, weigh the boxes, and stack them.

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We were so touched by St. Thomas’ and our community’s joy in helping complete strangers on the other side of the country.

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One more Road Trip: Montgomery County, New Jersey, en route to Houston!

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We partnered with Operation Friends Again, a New Jersey organization, that is sending a tractor-trailer filled with gift boxes specifically for children displaced by Hurricane Harvey.

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Almost there…434.5 pounds to go!

Once we weighed all our boxes, over 2,000 lbs., or ONE TON!, they said they would be happy to bring our boxes and letters, with them, down to Houston.

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The supplies from St. Thomas and our books are being packed up in a truck this week. Then they will begin their 1,600-mile journey and will finally reach their destination.  We hope to receive pictures of the recipients of these items in order to share in their happiness.