Sometimes, it’s hard for children to understand the impact they can have on another person’s life — particularly someone who lives nearly 8,000 miles away. But the 7th and 8th graders of Stella Maris Regional School have done exactly that.
And they did it with a bake-sale.
It all started with Diane Bucking of the Sag Harbor Garden Center. Bucking had heard about Sr. Kathleen Murphy, formerly the principal at Stella Maris. Sr. Kathleen, a member of the Religious of the Sacred Heart of Mary (RSHM), had gone to Africa where she founded a school on the streets of Zambia. She is now at a school in Harare, Zimbabwe where she teaches poor and often orphaned children.
Under the rule of president Robert Mugabe, Zimbabwe has suffered huge social and economic problems. In the past year, hyperinflation has made the local currency worthless and AIDS is a major crisis — much of the country’s adult population is either dead, infected or dying from the disease. Many of the orphans left behind are Sr. Kathleen’s students or cared for by fellow RSHM nuns at Shungu Orphanage in Hatfield, Harare. Because resources are so scarce, Stella Maris has sent items to help Sr. Kathleen’s students.
“I knew they had sent books or uniforms over to Sr. Kathleen,” recalls Bucking. “I found out they can’t get packaged seeds. They will take the seeds out of tomatoes and save them. So I handed some seeds in and said, maybe they’ll grow.”
Grow they did — and the Sag Harbor seeds have provided more than beauty to the people of Zimbabwe — they have provided sustenance for people without reliable access to food. In September, Bucking received an email from Sr. Kathleen saying:
“I wish you were here to see the joy your seeds have given people. We distributed them far and wide around Zimbabwe last year…and even some to Zambia. We particularly love the corn, carrots, turnips, radishes, lettuce, onions and tomatoes.”
Bucking’s seed vendor had given her a hundred or more seed packets for Sr. Kathleen last year. This fall, he upped the ante by giving her close to 500.
“He was pickier this time and left me edible herbs, vegetables and food based seeds,” explains Bucking. “It works out that just as the growing season is ending in the fall here, the rainy season in Zimbabwe is setting in. It’s a good time for planting.”
Though she had hundreds of seed packets waiting to be sent to Sr. Kathleen, Bucking still needed to find the money to ship them all.
“I knew the students had to do a service project,” says Bucking, whose three daughters attend Stella Maris. She approached teacher Gene Arlotta and asked if his 7th and 8th graders could help raise the money.
“The middle school is always doing different kinds of community service,” says Arlotta. “This was to help sister Kathleen.”
The students jumped into the effort. A one-day sale of home baked cookies, brownies and other goodies in the hallways of Stella Maris netted $126 — enough to send all the seeds to Zimbabwe.
“That wasn’t mom and dad just forking out the money either,” says Bucking.
Arlotta used the fundraiser as an opportunity to create an educational experience for the students, and created a display outside his classroom with a world map illustrating the route from Sag Harbor to Harare. Surrounding the map are photographs of Sr. Kathleen, the people of Harare and those Sag Harbor seeds in full bloom.
“The pictures are amazing,” says Bucking, who feels the project has given the students fresh perspective on how people in other parts of the world live. “If we can help someone and get across the idea that a package of seeds can feed someone for months, that’s great. Kids here in general don’t get it.”
And if the photographs don’t bring the message home, Sr. Kathleen’s words certainly do. In an email dated October 13, 2009, she writes:
“Dear Diane, These are a mixture of pictures of the ‘Fruit of Seeds from Sag Harbor’ and a few showing the orphans we work with and some projects that you have helped with. The Herb Center (started by Sr. Eveline Murray) is a wonderful project which was begun last year to help provide natural medicines for people suffering from AIDS. There is little medicine available as it is far too expensive to buy. By teaching people to use natural medicines which can be made from herbs and local plants, many ailments can be cured and immunity boosted.”
In her email, Sr. Kathleen also explains that water is a very scarce resource in Zimbabwe. The sisters teach residents ways to grow enough vegetables and herbs to keep their families healthy — two of these methods are the garden in a bag and a keyhole garden.
“The garden in a bag is simply a sack filled with compost and watered,” writes Sr. Kathleen. “Holes are poked in the bag and seeds…such as spinach, cabbage, carrots or onions planted in it.”
“The keyhole garden is a bit more complex,” she continues. “A wall is built around a big circle with an indent where you can walk into the middle. A small circular wall of stones is built in the middle. The outer circle is filled with tin cans at the bottom! Then the rest is filled up with compost. The inner circle is filled with grass and leaves and an old pipe to conduct water to the bottom. The middle hole is used to water the garden. When you pour the water down through the middle, the tin cans cause it to flow all around the circle quite evenly.”
“You can grow enough food for a family in the ‘Keyhole Garden,’” she adds. “Try it next spring.”
“I love the pictures of the keyhole garden,” says Bucking. “It looked so lush.”
“She definitely has a green thumb,” adds Stella Maris Principal Jane Peters who recalls that Sr. Kathleen organized many plant and flower sales at Stella Maris during her tenure as principal. “She was always excited about gardens and planting things. I’m sure she’s talking to the children there about seeds, nutrition and what you can plant to sustain life.”