About a year ago, a post in my Twitter feed caught my attention. Something about Africa and pen pals, re-tweeted by an educator (I think I'm remembering the details correctly…I was pretty pregnant and my brain was only kind of working…). I followed the link and found an organization that connects American students with students in Africa. Intrigued, I contacted the organization, Fitness for Africa.
After a couple of emails back and forth, I filled out a short application and hooked Brother-Bug up with a pen pal in Uganda! His friend is six, likes reading, and is in primary school. This has been fun and educational, to say the least.
Since we started writing to Brian in January, we've learned some African geography (namely where Uganda is and what the weather is like) and we've learned about some traditions for Brother-Bug's friend (he has a special chicken and rice meal for his birthday instead of cake). We receive and write one letter each month. Fitness for Africa suggests topics, but Brother-Bug and his friend seem to find plenty to talk about.
In a purely “school” sense, this gives us opportunities to practice writing skills – handwriting as well as letter construction, grammar, and niceties. In a larger sense, we are forging connections with someone on the other side of the world. This is an important step towards respect, understanding, and Peace.
“I've learned a lot about what African children do. I really like being his pen pal because it is exciting. I've really liked getting to learn about Africa.”
– Brother-Bug (6)
I have been really impressed by how easy Fitness for Africa has made this for me, as the parent and facilitator. Brother-Bug writes his letter. I scan it and email to the field organizer in Uganda. He prints it and gives it to Brian. The process then reverses, ending up with Brian's letter in our email in-box, and I print it out for Brother-Bug. We avoid the messy and unreliable postal adventures between here and Uganda! I get email reminders when the monthly letter is coming due.
The mission of the organization is to help children have full and complete lives. The founder says:
“The goal of this project came from the desire to create Healthy Lifestyles for as many children as possible … One aspect of a healthy life was the ability to have friendships and to learn about the world and other cultures … That’s how this idea sparked for me to start a PenPal project for Children.”
-Heather Parisi, Founder and Creator of Fitness for Africa
It's such a small thing – just writing a letter to someone somewhere else. But what benefits we see from this small thing!