by Hillary Federico, Middletown Press
The group — made up of fourth- and fifth-graders involved in the Environmental Club — is calling students in Ghana, an effort that is supposed to encourage cultural connections between students from foreign lands. The term “foreign,” however, is relative as students participating in the “Dear Mother…Letters to the Earth” project come from all walks of life, from all parts of the world. Some students are from the southern portion of the United States, affected by Hurricane Katrina. Others were affected by the oil spill locally and overseas, according to principal, Jon Romeo.
The brainchild of composer Glenn McClure, the project was kick started as a tribute to the College of the Environment on Wesleyan University’s campus, a program launched this past year. In April, McClure, a faculty member at New York’s Eastman School of Music, hopes to perform a musical composition he is in the process of producing. As a supplement to the piece, McClure will incorporate letters, poems and drawings depicting young students’ perspectives on “Mother Earth.”
But the endeavor is more than just a class project to Zipf. Rather, it is a glimpse into a world she has known for nearly four years.
It was early February 2010 when Zipf, her father and her sister traveled to Ethiopia for the second time. She remembers the smell of stale earth and the village people walking 17 miles to fetch black water, clogged with ancient mud. She recalls a world so full of life, yet brimming with heartache — a place she refers to as home.
There, the landscape grows thick with tribes, including the Mursi, Suri, Kwegu and Kara. The villages are clusters of huts with goat pens. The stubble of past harvests line the periphery. The work is hard but the spirits are high. Everything is sun bleached, dried into skeletons spitting soil in the air.
Cattle and goats are a family’s most prized possessions here, serving as the lifeblood of the villages and people.
Zipf, who had first traveled to Ethiopia when she was in first grade, is now in fourth and lives with constant reminders of a place she holds close to her heart. Over the course of four years, her parents have adopted two boys: Ashebir, 4, and Tariku, 3.
Taking her place at a wooden table, Zipf enthusiastically pulls out an etched suede journal. “Ethiopia, Africa” is legible on the collection of pages and it is tied tight with a leather strap. But as she cracks the binding, a story comes to life, both in her eyes and in her heart.
“Feb. 7 was the most exciting day, it was the day I wrote the most about,” she said. “We went to this diner, Jazzy’s for lunch and then visited three kids with FH (Food for the Hungry) who were HIV positive in Ziway.”
The kids — Bledeue, Meheret and Lediue — had lost their parents and were under the care of a neighbor.
“They doubt they’ll ever be able to do this (go to school),” Zipf said. “They lived in a mud hut with cattle. I remember seeing Meheret covered up in a cloth because she was very sick.
“I see these poor kids and I want to say, ‘How do you survive’? because they’re so poor and they don’t even have water,” Zipf added. “Africa is kind of like my hometown. I’m even learning Amharic (the Ethiopian dialect). (With this project) I get to see Africa again without even moving (from) my place here.”
While not every student boasts as extensive a travel resume as Zipf, Macdonough students express the same fire as she, a motivating factor which has inspired them to help protect and sustain their own neighborhoods.
Through the Green Street Arts Center, members of the Environmental Club — renamed “Green Smarts” by the students — have visited the nearby Erin Street Community Garden to plant bulbs and rake leaves.
“It’s gotten them to really realize how to give back to their community,” said fifth-grade teacher Stefanie DiBacco said. “I think they recognize that this is where we live and we don’t want it to be dirty.”
Green Smarts meets every Friday after school and is presently made up of 13 students, two of whom are fifth-graders. The teleconference scheduled for Monday was rescheduled for another day due to technical difficulties contacting McClure.