Newburyport girl's clothes to help kids in Ghana
NEWBURYPORT, Mass.—Newburyport High School junior Lauren Sundstrom's basement shelves are overflowing with gifts.
They're not the kind that come packaged in brightly colored boxes and tied in silver and gold ribbon. But the bags of used clothing hold plenty of hope and promise for a group of young children Sundstrom met in Ghana, Africa, last summer.
Inspired by that trip, Sundstrom has been collecting gently used hand-me-downs in the latest brand names and styles to sell next spring. The money raised will purchase basic items the children of Ghana truly need, she said.
"I knew it took so little to change somebody's life, and that any effort could really make a difference," she said.
Sundstrom was one of 28 students from across the U.S. and Europe who traveled to Ghana with the community service group Global Leadership Adventures. They stayed in a small fishing village, where they were put to work building bricks for a new schoolhouse and teaching math and science to children fortunate enough to attend classes.
The experience was life-changing, she said.
"What really struck me was the facilities and just how rundown they were," Sundstrom said. "It was shocking that they didn't have teachers or desks or a pencil. They would fight over who got to have the pencil because everything was of so much more value to them."
As an American brought up in a culture that teaches children to be wary of strangers, Sundstrom also marveled at the children's willingness to embrace her.
"They were so friendly and accepting," she said. "They were really warm and engaging. I think that as an American, I don't know if I would be as trusting to speak to a stranger from another country that way, but they really were."
Sundstrom was impressed with the positive way students went about their lessons.
"They really wanted to learn," she said. "They were much more interested in learning and becoming better people, and they really saw education as a way to better their lives, which I don't think a lot of American students do. Americans tend to see it as something we have to do and it's not so important."
Given that eagerness for learning, Sundstrom was surprised to discover that after school, many children went to work alongside adults in the village and on fishing boats on Lake Volta. They often toiled long into the night, performing potentially dangerous tasks boat owners were unwilling to do themselves, including diving into the ocean to untangle fishing lines and nets, she said.
Sundstrom said she was told that without the money to purchase uniforms and attend school, there's little hope a young villager in Ghana can rise out of poverty and provide for their families.
"A school uniform costs $9 for the children, which is unrealistic for many families," she said. "So, they end up working on the streets or sometimes they're enslaved or sold by their families to local fishermen for years and years at a time.
"The second I got back I thought, I really need to do something because there isn't a day that I don't think about it. It is a burden to know there are kids out there who don't get to go to school and go to bed hungry."
Sundstrom spread the word about her clothing drive to friends and family. Before long, they began turning up at her house with bags of donations. She has also raised about $760 from local business owners and friends anxious to help. Her goal is to raise $5,000 through donations and the sale set for March 31 and April 1.
"I think that with the money that I have, I could not only buy these children uniforms, but hopefully, supply their families with a little more funds to support the family with food or shelter or anything they would otherwise have their child sacrifice school for," she said.
Sundstrom is getting help from Superintendent Marc Kerble, who approached the School Committee on her behalf this month with a proposal to place clothing collection bins inside each of the city's school.
Sundstrom is dreaming of the day she can return to Ghana with the resources to purchase desks for the students she taught last summer, uniforms for those who need them and pencils for all.
"I was personally affected by every child that I met," Sundstrom said. "There are certain ones that I vividly remember, but every single one had a lasting impression on me."