Issue 238

March
2010

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Netza Project Inspires Bookwell Children


Children at Bookwell School have made lots of new friends from the other side of the world.  They come from  Netzahualcoyotl  (‘Netza’)  in Zihuatanejo, Mexico, divided from Egremont by the Atlantic, huge contrasts in climate, and most of all by the conditions in which they live. 

Their new friends might live only a few hundred metres from a luxurious tropical holiday resort, but their wooden shacks or very basic cement homes have no indoor plumbing and only one bare electric light bulb if they are lucky.  The 430 students who attend the Netza School for Indigenous Children come from extremely poor but hopeful families who believe that the chance for education will make a huge difference in their lives.

You could see in the eyes of the six and seven year old children of the Bookwell class that made this link what a struggle it was to get their imagination round these ideas.  Many had come across people who spoke other languages on holiday with their parents.  McKenzie could count up to 10 in Spanish and Nina had visited Mexico and lived in America.  But to imagine having children in their class who did not speak their language was a challenge.  The lives of Mexican children who are not surrounded by all the comfort and security they take for granted in their own homes are perhaps too hard for them to imagine at such a young age.  But they are taking the first steps in cultural understanding and their imagination is growing stronger. 

This remarkable link was forged by the ambition of Headteacher Christopher Ashcroft and Year 2 Teacher Sheila Benbow to make the topic of Mexico more ‘real’ by finding a school in Mexico with which the children could correspond.  Mr Ashcroft explained that it had at first been very difficult to find a school that wanted to take part in the project, but their search was eventually rewarded by a really exciting reply from the Netza Project, the US charitable organisation that supports the work of the Netza school.  "What we have found out about the school and its children, so far, has been amazing,” he declared.

It has opened a really fruitful exchange of information between the schools.  Bookwell’s Year 2 has, so far, sent the Mexicans booklets about their school and the town of Egremont.  In return, Bookwell has received photographs of the Netza children along with writing in both Spanish and Nahuapl, one of the 61 indigenous Mexican and Aztec languages still spoken today by 14 million Mexicans.  Working out what the foreign language means has been an exciting challenge.  Matthew Williamson (6), along with several other children, used the clues in the pictures to try to understand the children’s writing.  “Verde, blanco and rojo must mean green white and red,” Matthew said, “because they are describing the Mexican flag.”

“Be the change that you wish to see in the world”, the words of Mahatma Gandhi, is the Netza project motto. This inspired Bookwell’s School Council to see this as a chance for the whole school to become involved and raise funds to help support their new pen pals in Mexico.  Children have brought in treasured toys and other possessions for a bring and buy sale, and even as we were there, they chatted excitedly about filling boxes with pennies which would mount up and fill the lives of their friends with hope.  They plan to buy books, “But remember to get books written in Spanish,” warned 6 year old Aaron Kelly.  11 year old Hayley Moreland is shocked to realise how basic homes are in Netza, and 10 year old Paul Shepherd hopes that they can raise some money for these children  because "it makes me realise  how lucky we are to have schools like we have in the UK.”
“I hope that this is just the start of a long partnership with the Netza School,” said Mr Ashcroft.  “The children at Bookwell are so eager to help the children in Mexico and it is wonderful to hear them talking so enthusiastically about trying to help to change the Mexican children’s lives.  We continually teach our children about the importance of thinking of others and this relationship provides us with another opportunity to put this into practice. ”
Fundraising donations  will not only continue equal-access support for the unique six-language Netzahualcoyotl School and Kindergarten for the children aged 3-12, but will also help them to expand their programmes to reach hundreds more deserving children.  Major development issues for the school are the construction and improvement of classrooms, provision of books and learning materials, teacher training, nutrition, health and family assistance services and student scholarships for middle and high school, and even university.

Any Egremont Today readers who wish to donate to Bookwell’s Netza appeal can contact the school on 01946 820408, or email head@bookwell.cumbria.sch.uk.  You can also visit the Netza School website at www.netzaproject.org  In the name of our readers, Egremont Today will send its own donation of Ł1000.

Peter Watson

More:  The School that grew from a seed under a tree >>