Metuchen students extend kindness to African school children

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By KATHY CHANG
Staff Writer

METUCHEN — Students in the Metuchen School District showed how “kind” they were as they helped raise close to $4,000 for the K.I.N.D. (Kids in Need of Desks) project in Malawi, Africa, because sitting on a dirt floor to learn is not comfortable.

“It’s not so easy to learn without a desk,” said Aiden, a fifth grader at Edgar Middle School, adding that students around the world should have the same opportunity to learn at a desk as they do in the United States.

Mary Jo Paulmenn, president of the Metuchen Paraprofessional Association, said her husband, Ed Paulmenn, last Christmas gifted two desks in their children’s names and presented that as their presents during the holiday season.

“It made me cry,” said Paulmenn, whose children are in their 30s. “I had no idea he was going to do that.”

Paulmenn said her husband got the idea when he saw it on MSNBC’s “The Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell.”

Lawrence O’Donnell and UNICEF (United Nations Children’s Fund) teamed up to provide school desks and chairs to children in Malawi.

The people of Malawi also benefit. Instead of building the desks and chairs somewhere else, they are built in Malawi by the people who live there.

A gift of $27.50 can lift one student off the floor; a gift of $55 will buy a desk and bench for two students; a gift of $100 can pick four students off the floor; and a gift of $1,300 will buy supplies for an entire classroom, according to the program.

Paulmenn said the Metuchen Paraprofessional Association sponsors a fundraiser every two years and has raised money for the American Cancer Society, Autism Speaks and the Olivia Fund in previous years.

“We try to pick different ones,” she said. “All four schools are involved.”

Paulmenn said she brought the idea to sponsor a walkathon fundraiser for K.I.N.D. to Schools Superintendent Vincent Caputo, and with his support the fundraiser kicked off on Oct. 5 and donations were collected through Oct. 21.

At the end of October, each school participated in a walkathon for the cause.

Along with the students and staff, local businesses also joined to help the cause including What’s the Scoop, Metuchen Mower, Phoenix Autoworks and the Swan Brothers.

Viktoria Curbelo, of UNICEF, was present to accept the donation on Nov. 21.

She thanked everyone involved for their efforts.

“This is so important because education is a right for everyone,” she said.

The students in the Metuchen schools learned that every day, millions of children throughout Africa struggle to learn while sitting on the floor or on the ground outdoors.

Cleo, an eighth grader at Edgar Middle School, said that reasoning prompted her to participate in the cause.

Jaydyn, a fifth grader at Edgar Middle School, said she actually practiced sitting on the floor.

“It’s not comfortable,” she said.

Natalie, a third grader at Campbell Elementary, added that writing on the floor would cause unnecessary bumps as the children write on their paper.

Dhiya, a fifth grader at Edgar Middle School, said it was great to do their little part for the UNICEF fund, and Jaimie, a seventh grader at Edgar Middle, said all children deserve to learn on something as simple as a desk.

For more information, visit www.unicefusa.org/KIND.