Twine from a store in Urbandale. Beads from a shop in Des Moines. Smiles from school children in South Africa.
Late last spring, sixth and seventh graders at Summit Middle School participated in CommUnity Day – a day’s worth of learning about and interacting with different volunteer organizations in the Johnston area.
Cathy Obrecht and Rene Blessman from Blessman Ministries came to CommUnity Day to talk about their experience working to feed nearly 7,000 South African orphans and vulnerable children on a daily basis.
“We took the standpoint of hunger and tried to raise their awareness of hunger issues in our community and on a national and international level,” Obrecht said. “By showing them photos of African life and explaining the prevalence of orphaned children – and what that truly means – the seed of thinking beyond one’s self and helping others is planted in their minds.”
More than 100 students signed up to learn about the work of Blessman Ministries in South Africa. While they listened and asked questions about life on another continent, they made bracelets. A rather simple concept, these friendship bracelets would make their way around the world and eventually end up on the wrists of school-aged orphaned and vulnerable children.
“Children in South Africa love to receive gifts from children in America,” Obrecht said. “The Summit students were given a bag with bracelet pieces and learned how to assemble the bracelet – it’s basically a sturdy piece of twine and colored beads. After the bracelet is made, it goes back into the plastic bag, and Summit students wrote their name on a label that was placed on the bag. When the South African children received the bracelet, they could see it was personalized from a child in America, who took the time to make this gift.”
Obrecht went on to talk about the emotional value a small, simple bracelet holds for these orphaned and vulnerable children.
“From the stories I heard from the volunteers, it was so important for the children in South Africa to have that bag from the child in Johnston, Iowa. They wanted the bag that had the name that represented the child in America. The faces of the children over there … they are so grateful for any little thing. We might say it’s an inexpensive bracelet, but to them, it’s like gold or silver. Even sixteen-year-old boys who have been orphans wanted these bracelets. It became an extremely treasured and precious gift.”
Michaela Freiermuth, a volunteer who took the bracelets to South Africa as part of her work there, said the happiness that these bracelets brought to the children was very rewarding. As part of their work in South Africa, Freiermuth and other volunteers would wash the feet of the school children and give them a new pair of socks, new shoes, and the bracelets.
“The children were so excited to get the bracelets,” Freiermuth said. “A simple gift and kind gesture meant the world to them.”
While Obrecht made the learning session interesting and interactive for students, she said the overall goal was to get them thinking about how a little effort or a small gesture on their part can mean the world to someone else.
“The students had fun, and it was a great activity for them,” Obrecht said. “But beyond that, it teaches them awareness of their own community … People next door to them may have problems that they may not know about. I told them that it doesn’t matter what you do, but do something. I hope I’m instilling that a simple gesture goes a long way. And as they get older, this instilled value grows and the acts become a little greater. They don’t need to go to South Africa to help, they can help someone in their own community.”