Pennies build Pakistan school

Project wins WEAC award

The children of the Hushe Valley in Pakistan have a bright new school, thanks to the efforts of children and educators at Westside Elementary School in River Falls, Wisconsin. As a result of their efforts, Westside School won WEAC's 1997 Richard Lewandowski Memorial Award for Humanitarian Activities.

Thanks to the efforts of children and educators at Westside School in River Falls, this little girl and her friends and neighbors in Korphe, Pakistan, have a new school. - Photo by Greg Mortenson

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Learning From an Ancient Village, by Mary Cashman

It all began in 1995 when Greg Mortenson, son of Westside School Principal Jerene Mortenson, told students about his 70-day mountaineering expedition to K-2, the second-highest mountain in the world. While in Pakistan, he spent some time with the Balti people of the Hushe Valley, which has some of the harshest living conditions in the world.

In the Village of Korphe, Greg was taken by poor learning conditions — school was held in a dusty apricot grove and the teacher was shared with another village. About ninety 5- to 12-year-olds sat in the dirt reciting their lessons. Moved by his story, two teachers — Susy Eisele and Sandy Heikkila — came up with the idea of a Pennies for Pakistan campaign to raise money to buy materials to build a school in Korphe.

Students bought right into the effort and collected 62,000 pennies ($620). "Pennies, bags of pennies began to fill jars in every classroom," said Westside teacher Mary Bebie, who accepted the award on behalf of the school at the WEAC Representative Assembly.

Because of the harsh, wet, mountainous conditions, the materials were delivered 40 miles from the village and had to be hauled by hand to the school site.

Westside teacher Mary Cashman, who visited the village, described the scene:

"Twelve men, led by the village holy man, ... traveled through the mud and fallen rock to the bottom of the mountain at Apoligan, where the planks lay stacked in a wooden hut. They strapped the wood on their backs, some of the loads weighing up to 60 pounds, and started back up the mountain. It would be a journey of 40 miles, and they would have to do it three times in order to get all the material up the mountain."

Nearly everyone in the village helped construct the school.

"There were no bulldozers nor jackhammers; only simple tools and dedicated hearts and hands," Cashman wrote. "It was a living demonstration of the power and strength of community, of what individuals can build when they join together in a common purpose."

Recognizing the contributions of the River Falls students, the villagers named the school Korphe-Westside School.

Posted June 4, 1997