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Buddies in Botswana

By France Griggs Sloat

Kathy Gallagher is the consummate teacher. Everything is a teaching moment.

Take, for instance, when she learned Joel Doucette, one of her daughter’s Xavier classmates, was going to southern Africa on a two-year Peace Corps assignment. She decided he would be a perfect pen pal for her fourth grade class.

“I thought it would give the kids a window into a world they have no clue about—how the children live over there,” says Gallagher, a mother of three Xavier alums.

He agreed. So when school started, Doucette began emailing monthly letters to her class at Holy Rosary Academy in Nashville, Tenn., describing different aspects of life for children in Bobonong, Botswana. For two years, the students wrote back, telling the Bobonong children about life in America and stuffing little treats into their packages as well, such as Goo Goos and Moon Pies. Then they began sending school supplies to help a school Doucette helped build. Before anyone knew it, the whole school got involved and then additional donations poured in from parents.

“Her school has been unbelievably supportive,” says Doucette, a 2007 business graduate. “They went from the home room pen-pal program to the entire school. They collected so much stuff it’s unbelievable.”

Doucette’s primary assignment is HIV/AIDS education, but he goes over to the school in the afternoons to help. “I read the letters and talk about what life is like for kids in the States,” he says. “We have a picture board where the kids draw pictures of what they think their friends in America look like. It’s a great cross-cultural exchange. They get excited when we have the readings. They want to hear what their friends are doing.”

The school opened in January 2011 with a thatched roof, one bare room and some chairs, but now it has two classrooms, a kitchen, a sick bay and latrines. It also has 45 children, most of whom are affected in some way by the HIV/AIDS epidemic—either they have it or they have lost a parent to the disease.

When the supplies arrive, they have a ceremony to celebrate the new crayons and Legos, coloring books and teaching manuals, flash cards and math problems.

“We call it our cross-cultural learning time with our friends from America,” Doucette says.

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