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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Monday, May 30, 2005

Students open wallets, hearts

By Eloise Aguiar
Advertiser Windward O'ahu Writer

LA'IE — The suffering faced by children of war touched the hearts of fourth-grade students in this community and taught them something in the process.

Keana Nauahi, left, David Muti and Marc Tahari are among the La'ie Elementary School pupils who collected $382 in three days to buy musical instruments for children in Kosovo, Northern Ireland and northern Uganda.

Diane Tafua

In three days this month, the music class of substitute teacher Diane Tafua organized a fund- raising campaign, creating posters, giving speeches and collecting $382 in pennies and dollar bills to buy musical instruments that would help heal youngsters scarred by war. Some gave pennies and others gave their whole allowance for the week.

The La'ie Elementary School students heard about the effects of war on young people's lives through Liz Shropshire, founder of the Shropshire Music Foundation of Arizona. The foundation uses music to help rehabilitate children in battle-ravaged areas such as Kosovo, Northern Ireland and northern Uganda.

Many children in those countries have been kidnapped and coerced to fight, orphaned at young ages and compelled to walk miles to find a safe place to sleep, the students learned.

The information frightened and saddened the students, making some feel guilty about having so much while other children lived such desperate lives.

Laakea McQuivey, a fourth-grader, said she was shocked that young children were kidnapped, given guns and ordered to kill people. McQuivey said she was saddened that the children had nothing — no parents, no schools, even no bed. She wanted to help, she said, adding that everyone was excited that they had exceeded their goal to collect enough money to purchase 13 instruments and now will be able to buy 129.

"It made me feel very good, like we did make a difference and we did help these people in some way and make them have some joy in their lives," Laakea said.

Not only did the fourth-graders help, but they learned an important lesson, said Isaac Feagai, a fourth-grader. "The important lesson was that if there are children in need, you can help them and do something," Feagai said, adding that his heart raced when he learned how much money was collected. "I feel very proud of myself, my class, my school and our teacher that started all of this."

But teacher Tafua said the idea came from the students who asked the simple question "What can we do?" At first, 22 students all pledged to each contribute $2 that they earned to purchase 13 instruments, Tafua said, adding that they then asked if they could ask the whole school. They created posters, sent letters to parents and wrote speeches they delivered to each class, she said.

Their actions generated discussions with peers and family, Tafua said. Students struggling with their own problems realized that there were children who were worse off than themselves, she said, and many said they wanted to help.

Marie Feagai, Isaac's mother, said she felt compelled to go to school the next day after seeing her son's reaction to Shropshire's speech and his change of attitude. A defiant child who was acting out because of challenges in his life, Isaac came to see how fortunate he is, Marie Feagai said.

The change was apparent during evening prayer when he asked to lead it, something he had refused to do in the recent past, she said.

"It was the most heartfelt, sincere plea to God to watch over the children all over the world that was going through so much hardship," Marie Feagai said. "He asked that the angels come to help to protect them and that their mommies, daddies, aunties, uncles, wherever they were, would be able to find them and to help keep them safe."

Later, the two of them went online to learn more about the children in Kosovo, Northern Ireland and Africa, she said.

"He really needed that," Marie Feagai said. "He needed to connect with children in other parts of the world that were really, really struggling."

Shropshire, who came to Hawai'i to give a devotional address at Brigham Young University-Hawai'i two weeks ago, said the reaction from the students was unprecedented.

"My message to the kids is, we can all change the world," Shropshire said. "But we have to get rid of all the hatred that's in our hearts, that we just look for ways that we can help."

Shropshire said her foundation uses music to help children find peace and gain control of their lives. The children learn musical notes, and after they pass a test, they are given a penny whistle or harmonica.

For the first time in a while they have something they can control, Shropshire said. "The end result is not to make great musicians out of them. The end result is to help their hearts to grow."

Normally, school administrators respond to her talks and organize a fundraiser, she said. This was the first time the students made the decision and followed through, she said, adding that she usually talks to a whole school, but this time was able to meet with only this one class.

"I'm in love with these kids," she said. "They are amazing. These little kids are going to change the world."

Reach Eloise Aguiar at eaguiar@honoluluadvertiser.com or 234-5266.