The light at the end of the tunnel.

In a small town of darkness, a young 23-year-old man made it his mission to bring the community light.  Using the latest technology of solar-powered LED lanterns, Evans Wadongo has developed an invention that would soon illuminate the homes that have since done without any electricity.  Nairobi, Kenya has relied on kerosene and firewood to heat and light their homes.

Wadongo’s invention is doing more than lighting the way.  He believes that the lanterns will ultimately help in the community’s education as well as reduce poverty and hunger.  Wadongo is not a stranger to dark homes.  He himself grew up in a house that required him to complete his studies with the dim light of a kerosene lamp that later caused him problems with his vision.  Due to the lack of proper lighting, he was unable to compete with students from homes with electricity, causing him to fall behind in school.  It wasn’t until 2004 when Wadongo was studying at a Kenya university that he was playing around with LED Christmas lights.  Suddenly, a lightbulb (pun intended) went off in his head.  After stumbling across a small piece of solar panel, he took his design to an artisan who helped him create the most efficient LED lantern.  He entitled the small light MwangaBora — Swahili for “good light.”

While attending a non-profit organization gathering, Wadongo was able to convince Sustainable Development for All-Kenya to support his $20/lamp cause.  Living off one meal per day and no compensation, Wadongo has dedicated his life to lighting the way for others.  He estimates that he has spread at least 10,000 lights throughout this once nighttime town.  With money no longer wasted on kerosene and firewood, families can now afford food and necessities for their families.  Wadongo notes that his hard work is worth the impact he has made.  After all, you can see Wadongo’s work best in the darkest hour of the night. A full description of his mission is described in the link below:

Solar-powered energy is increasingly in popularity world-wide. Often times the ability to work at night is taken for granted.  To truly have students feel the impact, encourage a ‘day of darkness’.  Don’t limit it to your classroom, but have students all over the school volunteer to experience a day with no light.  Have them keep a journal of the experience.  How did it impact your daily routines?  What was the most challenging part?  Do you think no lighting would impact your school work? Have students share their findings and discuss the most surprising impact the day of darkness had.  This experience will aid in students’ ability to relate to the members of Nairobi.  Guide them to explore the importance of light.

Incorporate Wadongo’s mission into a science lesson to truly understand the impact of light. Using the necessary materials and following the direction on the link below, build a solar lamp to understand how to utilize the power of the sun efficiently.

Wadongo encourages financial and material support to help his cause.  After building your own solar power lamps, hold a fundraiser (a dinner of evening dance would be fitting..) that is lit solely by the LED lights.  Not only will it bring awareness to the cause, but bring insight into what we often take for granted.  Wadongo can be reached through Facebook for students with further questions regarding his mission to light up rural communities.

As Wadongo says himself, “I just feel like it’s right.” (Wadongo, 2010).

As an educator, what was the most difficult part of a day without the use of light?

How do you think it would impact your students’ learning? Do you have students who currently do not have electricity in their homes?  Will this change how you view their learning environments?

Don’t burn your bridges.

A bridge has many purposes, lending itself to be the connection between two distinct objects.  Whether built to withstand millions of cars or merely to cross a trickling creek, each is built for a reason.  David Kakuko had very meaningful intentions for his bridges, to create a crossing point over the very river that killed his parents.  In an area that is often flooded in West Pokot, Kenya, Kakuko created a footbridge that connected the two lands divided by the raging rapids.

Originally from Kentucky, Kakuko came to Kenya in 1989 and began to address the isolated communities that were unable to reach towns for schooling, goods and even medical care.  In desperate times, many have tried to cross the river but have lost their lives in the battle.  Kakuko was led to bridge building by his friend, Jay Hindson.  They witnessed first hand that building bridges could change communities.  In 2003, he developed Bridging the Gap.  Since 1997, his team has built over 45 bridges connecting the land separated by the deadly waters.

Kakuko missions is more than a footpath.  It provides communities with the resources necessary for survival and a thriving environment.  He is often compensated with a sacred gift, a goat.   Even though Kakuko has witnessed how much his bridges have helped a multitude of communities, it does not come without a price.  He is often kept away from his family and has been in dangerous situations, including being robbed at gunpoint and malaria.  Despite it’s obstacles, Kakuko notes that he seems himself as privileged and that “a bridge is a beautiful metaphor for many things. There are bridges of hope, bridges of peace, bridges of life. To me, bridges are beautiful” (Kakuko, 2010).

To learn more about Kakuko’s story, visit:

Before the activity described below, show this documentary to your students.

Scroll to Bridging The Gap: The Galana Bridge Story, which gives a detailed view of the bridge building process and the impact the rivers have on their communities.

Kakuko’s mission offers insight to an unfamiliar culture and can expand students’ knowledge of other lives.  Present the video below to your class and discuss the symbolism of a bridge.  To enhance a writing lesson, have students create a poem behind that idea of a bridge, both its metaphoric meanings as it relates to its literal.  Urge them to connect it back to Kakuko’s mission and the cultural aspects of Kenya.  How did a bridge sustain life for those in the isolated communities in Kenya?  By visiting Kakuko’s website, students can help his cause by donating to his cause.  To raise money to build bridges, have an open poetry night where classmates and faculty can come hear students read their creative writing pieces or poems and make a donation.  Not only will students contemplate the symbolism behind his work, but they will make an impact for the many people impacted by Kenya’s rivers.

What bridge have you crossed in your life?  What was its significance?

Greening the Ghetto

When picturing the Bronx, “green” is not usually what comes to mind.  Nevertheless, Majora Carter is about to change that.  Born in the Bronx herself, Carter was considered the “poster child for urban blight”, as she noted in an interview by CNN back in 2008.  After leaving the Bronx to attend school, she later came back due to finances.  As she reflected on just how poor her community had become, she knew she had to become part of the solution and not just succumb to the problem.  Her neighborhood was being filled with toxic waste and other various polluting infrastructure.

Surveying the scene, Carter created Sustainable South Bronx.  She sums up its mission to be “advocating for environmental justice through sustainable environmental and economic development projects” (Carter, 2008).  Their goal is to create green collar jobs that employ  people who ultimately become an active part of creating a healthy and green community.  More than just cleaning her environment, Carter is addressing public health and poverty alleviation simultaneously.

Currently, the South Bronx handles about 40 percent of  Manhattan’s commercial waste, which has lasting impact on its population.  Carter notes that many of the neighborhoods’ issues revolve around the fact that the Bronx has a “sewage treatment plant, a sewage sludge palletizing plant, four power plants and the diesel emissions from about 60,000 diesel truck trips each and every week” (Cater, 2008).  As a result, they are currently experiencing a health crisis directly related to the poor state of their environment.  Many children suffer from asthma and the majority of its population is obese, a result of people not being active outdoors.

By visiting Carter’s website, teachers and students can first be informed of Sustainable South Bronx’s mission.

A major objective of Carter’s goal is to understand that trashs’ journey does not end when it’s tossed in the garbage can.  The following video provides a little more insight into Carter’s vision.

Ultimately, trash needs to end up somewhere.  Generate a list of where students think trash goes. Keep track of what they think to compare to later on.  Enlist students to do a little research.  Have them create a ‘trash’ diagram that follows the trashs’ journey.  Have them develop a map from the person who creates the trash to its final resting place.  They may know the beginning phases, from trash can to garbage dump to garbage truck, etc. however, what happens next?  Using the internet and teacher supervision, call the garbage company, recycling company, even local officials to track down the garbage.  Once completed, receive permission to hang the diagram in a popular area, either within the school itself or in a town building.  Have students brainstorm ideas as to how this can make a difference.  Have passersby think twice about that plastic bag they need from the drug store, or perhaps the coffee cup they buy every day instead of investing in a reusable one.  How does their diagram compare to their initial thoughts?

How did students thoughts changes about trash after the project? What was the most surprising?

What environmentally harmful habits will you, as the educator, change?

Mr. Earth Day

Striving to be green?  Wanting to make a major impact on our environment?  Forget about sending an e-mail (paper-free) to the president, mayor, local official or principal.  What about that guy over there on his bike?  Yeah, the one in the flannel shirt.  That would be Denis Hayes, or, after his ability to rally more than 200 million folks, Mr. Earth Day.  He was the driving force behind Earth Day in the 1970s and turned it into a global force in 1990.,2967,hayes,00.html

Growing up in Camas, Washington, Hayes didn’t set out to be an environmentalist.  He loved begin outdoors, but was concerned about the impact of local mills polluting the air.  He became even more concerned as an undergraduate at Stanford, where he finally became active and lead 1,000 students to take over a weapons-research lab.  With a minor warning and the advice to settle down,  Hayes became an intern in a government office where he was responsible for organizing a series of teach-ins across the country to call attention to the environment.  This only builded upon the momentum from his younger rebellions regarding the ravaged forests of his time.  In turn, he dropped out of school and designated all of his time to promoting rallies, street demonstrations and trash clean-up.  conclusively, Hayes had the largest gathering of flower power with nearly 20 million people following his cause.


After other various projects, including being appointed the head the Solar Energy Research Institute in Colorado by President Jimmy Carter, Hayes still preaches his passion and encourages both young and old to become involved.  Except now, he uses what he refers to as the ‘magic wand’ to spread the word, the internet.

“Earth Day is for the environment what Martin Luther King Day is for civil rights,” Hayes says. “We know what to do. But can we summon the political will and courage to make it happen?”

Earth Day is more than a 24 hour occurrence.  After all, we tend to spend every single day using the earth and its resources.  To crate momentum in your students, have the tap into their inner activism.  Using a computer (to save paper), have them generate a list of different ways to help the environment, from the biggest to the even the most minimalist ideas.  Have them organize ideas in what they can do independently and what may take more time to organize with others.  Now, the most important part, ACT.  It is not only enough to teach students how to live greenly, but you must model it as well.  Actively encourage students to pursue their own goals and openly share yours.  ride your bike to work? Check. Use reusable bags? Awesome. Attend local farmer’s markets? Even better.  Incorporate your healthy lifestyle into the room.  Share apples from the apple farm rather than buying the ones from California where mass amounts of fuel was used to deliver them.  For even more information, visit:

The website offers guidance on the many ways students and teachers alike can make an impact.  E-mail the list to family and friends to spread the word!  Knowledge = Power.

A great way to motivate students, especially those in younger elementary.,  In a colorful and text friendly format, children can play games and explore galleries about the environment.

Sasquatch is a company striving to be as green as possible.  Not only do they talk the talk about eco-friendly production, but they walk the walk.  Sasquatch also offers contests, games (word searches, scrambles, etc.) and tools for the classroom that promote a green world.  Have a school-wide participation for a Sasquatch contest to draw attention to the cause and build student investment in our environment.

The above websites are great resources in your classroom. Explore them with your class as a whole or give them the opportunity to scope out different ways on their own.  Enjoy a little background music while you work:

What can you do right here, right now, to help the environment?

How are you encouraging your class to spread the green? AKA, get others involved? Share ideas for others to steal!

It can be easy being green!

Plant a tree, save a village.

Although Earth Day happens only once a year, it is important that we strive to care for the earth year round.  Take notes from Anne Hallum, who made it her mission to help the rural land of Guatemala, a land that is often destroyed by frequent mudslides.  It can take only seconds for a sheet of mud to slip down a hillside community and wipe out everything in its path.  Along with losing all their possessions, many lives have been taking by these dangerous machines.  Many of the mudslides, which occur during the rainy season starting May and ending around October, are a result of hurricanes, heavy rainstorms and earthquakes.

Despite their overwhelming devastation, Hallum knew that Guatemala could take a stand against mudslides, literally.  When trees and various growth stood against the mudslides, their dangerous impact was greatly reduced.  Hallum began her mission while she was working as a political science professor in florida and traveled to Nueva Concepcion, Guatemala, in 1991.  She visited the empty villages where tree has been cut down and farmland had been demolished.  After performing her own research, Hallum understood that it took a specific tree, pine tress, to be planted on a hill-side that prevented the mudslides.

After working with local staff, local Guatemalans are trained to visit with villages to instruct them on the tree planting process and its purpose.  As Hallum states, “We don’t come in, plant some trees and leave. We do that, and they’ll cut them down. It’s a step-by-step process that starts with education. In a little time, they notice their crops are doing better; mudslides aren’t happening. And the behavior changes: They start to protect the trees. We say: ‘All right, you’ve got it. You know how to do this now.’ Then we leave … on to the next village.”

Officially titled, The Alliance for International Reforestation, otherwise known as AIR (ironically), is proceeding to plant and educate their way through Guatemala. without the instruction and educational guidance of trained locals, the tree planting with have been pointless.

Present the informational video to your class and have them discuss the importance of educating locals in addition to the actual tree planting.  Encourage them to see why educating others is a vital part of progression.  Create a web in front of the class and have students share other areas where education is necessary to excel.  For independent work, have students browse the official Alliance for International Reforestation website where they can view galleries of past devastation and the progress that has been made.  Make sure they take a look at the educational process and the detailed training the local Guatemalans take before planting trees.  Have students make a list of the important elements of tree planting.

Although you may not experience muslides in your region, planting trees has a multitude of other benefits.  Yet, Hallum’s goals was not necessarily to plant tress, but to teach other’s it’s importance.  Have your student construct a tree planting program to present to another class or even a young grade.  Ensure that they address the benefits of planting trees, the process of planting trees and how each individual can help in an efficient and productive manner.

After the initial information session, get out and plant some tress!  After contacting school and local officials, offer to plant trees near the school playground to at a local park.  Consider planting at the town library or recreation center as well.

How do you find Hallum’s role similar to your own in the teaching profession i.e. the purpose of teaching others rather than merely completing the work for them? 

Are you always succesful?  How can you improve upon this success?

Back to school, for good.

As a local tour guide, Ponheary Ly had the responsiblity of presenting Cambodia to intrigued onlookers, people who were not embedded in the actual devastation of her country.  As Ly guided visitors around Angkor Wat temples in Siem Reap, she noticed the young children begging for money on the statue’s steps.  As Ponheary began to take a closer look herself at Cambodia’s young people, she knew she was capable of helping these children find a way to school.  She slowly began collecting her tip money to help children pay the minimal fees necessary for an education.

  Initially a school teacher as of 1982, Ly was aware of the free education that Cambodia provided, yet few children actually attended.  Most were kept home to help with the farm and earn extra money to support their families.  For a mere $20 a year, students needed the necessary uniforms and supplies to be prepared for the classroom, a fee most preferred to do without.

Ly herself had survived a genocide that murdered most of her family, including her father, also a schoolteacher. Ly was forced to support her mother and six siblings after her father’s death, leading her into the world of education. Two decades later, she set up the Ponheary Ly Foundation that has helped over 2,000 children attend school in Cambodia.  Along with the benefits of an education, students are also guaranteed two uniforms, two pairs of shoes, breakfast each morning and, most importantly, medical care.

Thanks for Visiting

Ly isn’t finished yet.  She is currently working to clean the water systems in Cambodia’s schools as well as increasing the pay for current teachers.

What does she see for the future? Ly is ultimately hoping for many of her students to carry on into higher education, pursuing careers in the fields of their choice.  As an advocate for the young people of Cambodia, Ly has proven that sometimes all a student needs to attend school is a pair of shoes to get there.

An education is a precious thing and has the ability to make or break one’s future. To view a more personal account of Ly’s endeavors, present students with this slide show of two volunteers who spent time working in Cambodian schools.

For an even more personal account, visit photographer Lori Carlson’s webpage that gives an inside look at the children of Cambodia.

Post the pictures around the room to give students the opportunity to view them.  Lead a discussion on the importance of education. Is education a right or a privilege? What makes it so? Have students write or share what they appreciate about their education and encourage a whole group discussion with your class.  This can open children’s eyes to see that school is more than just a daily requirement, but a means for success and achievement in all areas of life. For an inside view of the everyday life of Cambodian school children (un-glorified and unedited), view this video of a kindergarten class at lunch time.

What connections can your students draw from the video?  How does this compare to their lunch time?

Ly gives students the opportunity to take part in her mission.  Visit the “Wishlist” on her website and hold a school-wide drive to gather items needed in Cambodian schools. Among others, Ly hopes to collect board games, biodegradable soap and even band aids for her schools.

Now it’s your turn.  Do you think education is a right or a privilege? What factors impact this?

As a teacher, would you be willing to provide shoes just for your students to attend?

Want to connect more? Friend Ly on Facebook to get the most current news in Cambodia and have the chance for students to communicate directly with the children they’re helping.

“Music is the universal language of mankind” Longfellow

Music has an incredible power.  Whether the background noise in the car, the motivation for a daily jog, or the anthem to a wedding march, music has the ability to create an emotional reaction and sensational impact.  Kaylee Radzyminski, a 19-year-old from Tennessee, decided to use music in an even more inspirational way.   In a personal effort to show her gratitude to U.S. troops overseas, she began collecting CDs and DVDs to send to the armed forces.  At first it was a small endeavor and nothing more than a few mailing envelopes.  However, her thoughtfulness expanded into Tunes 4 the Troops, a nonprofit organization that has shipped more than one million CDs and DVDs overseas.

Even as a high schooler, Radzyminski wanted to make sure her efforts would continue even as she ventured to college.  As she notes, “Tunes 4 the Troops is part of the Service Learning Center here at the university, so there’s basically a staff and student workers who volunteer for community service hours that are able to work on Tunes 4 the Troops. So this way, Tunes 4 the Troops will be able to continue even once I graduate.” (Berger, 2008).

To expand her good deed, Radzyminski was featured in a CNN article on how to give for the holidays.  The publicity helped Tunes 4 the Troops reach their goal of one million CDs.  To give students further insight on how Radzyminski organized her mission, direct them to Radzyminski’s original story at

A passion of many, Radzyminski turned her musical interest into a mission.  She sends the message to young people that if you dream it, you can do it.  After all, every journey begins with a single step.  In this case, a single CD.  Her goal is relatable and attainable.  Every student in your classroom has at least one area of particular interest that can be used as a starting point.  Light the match in your students’ minds in how they can turn their hobbies into good deeds, from the simplest forms to the more elaborate.  Young role models present a more relatable and intriguing hero that students can understand better than those from older generations.  Have students brainstorm their hobbies and how they can use them to help others.  A renowned athlete in your class? Consider having a pick up basketball game to raise money for a local camp. A dedicated artist? Donate paintings to a local library or community center to spread the beauty.

To further Radzyminski’s mission, visit her own personal website to see what student can do with their unwanted CDs and DVDs.

How can you incorporate students’ personal hobbies into the classroom in a way that is appropriate and motivating? Do you think there is a place for a teacher’s interest in the classroom?

How can you utilize these interests to help others?