STUDENTS LEARN ABOUT POVERTY IN THE GLOBAL COMMUNITY
ERIE, PA. — “I was surprised to learn that some kids drop out of school at age seven because they have to work to help their families,” said Zita Schiedel, from St. Gregory School, North East, while making a rosary at St. Mark Catholic Center in Erie earlier this month.
Scheidel was responding to a question about what she had learned about El Salvador as part of her school’s experience with the Global Poverty Project. She and other sixth grade students from the eight Catholic elementary schools in Erie County participated in the final year of a three-year grant to study poverty funded by the Thomas Lord Charitable Foundation.
In 2019 and 2020, sixth graders studied Burkina-Faso in western Africa. They learned about the struggles of that country and then met at St. Mark Catholic Center to pack food to be sent to the war-torn, poverty-plagued area. The activities were fun for the students and the lessons they learned were powerful.
A culminating summit was held in 2019 but had to be canceled due to the pandemic in the spring of 2020. No formal activities related to the grant-funded program were able to be held in 2021 for the same reason. The original format was altered for 2022 to provide an engaging and informative program even though food cannot yet be packed and sent.
Students have had the opportunity to learn about some of the challenges due to poverty faced by people throughout the world. Each school studied one country and then shared their knowledge with students from the seven other schools at a culminating summit held at St. Mark Catholic Center. As a gesture of their prayerful support, they made rosaries for people in the eight countries they studied: China, Poland, Rwanda, Kenya, India, Indonesia, Guatemala and El Salvador.
“The venture is a collaborative effort of the offices of Social Justice and Life and Faith Formation of the Diocese of Erie and the Catholic Schools Office,” said Patrice Swick, director of the Office of Social Justice and Life.
“This is a great age for this project,” said Kim Lytle, who supervised rosary making. “They are becoming aware that they are part of something bigger and are surprised to learn about the challenges kids their age face in other parts of the world.”
Prior to their day at St. Mark, students at each school completed a multi-disciplinary unit on their assigned country and made a video about what they learned. In addition to class lessons, the schools hosted speakers who described life in a particular country or the implications of poverty in each of the countries studied.
While gathered at St. Mark, each student received a “passport” to record their thoughts about each country after watching the videos created by their cohorts. They made rosaries, were led in a water simulation exercise and wrote prayers to offer for the people about whom they had learned.
Donovan Huzinec, also from St. Gregory School, was surprised to learn that many in El Salvador don’t have running water. “One third of the people live in poverty,” he said.
While stringing rosaries, boys in a group from Blessed Sacrament School, Erie, discussed a lack of clean water in many countries and said they learned that children in Rwanda – the country they studied – face hardships they do not. Students from Mother Theresa Academy, Erie, were also surprised to know about water shortages and how little money the people had to live on. During a group simulation activity to introduce them to the practice of carrying water long distances, they dicussed water conservation practices they can employ in their homes.
That this group of young people has expanded their awareness of the world community was very much in evidence on summit days at St. Mark. With continued exposure to the study of global issues of justice offered in their schools, they are well-positioned to make a positive difference in this complicated world.