As the school year winds down, Bexley Middle School seventh-graders are planning an annual fundraiser to benefit impoverished communities in South Sudan, Africa.
As part of their social studies unit on Africa, the students are organizing a 3K walk/run to benefit the school's South Sudan Project. The event will be held May 25 at the school, 326 S. Cassingham Road.
The walk/run is one of several learning and service activities the students have participated in this spring. The students read the novel "A Long Walk to Water" and watched the film, "God Grew Tired of Us," about the 3,800 Sudanese "Lost Boys" who survived war to be airlifted to the United States in the 1990s.
Students also heard from humanities teachers Mindy Hall and Beth Jax about the lack of access to health care in the developing world and the history of conflict in Africa and South Sudan.
Jax said the school's South Sudan Project began in the 2011-12 school year when she and another teacher, Natalie Mroz, who is now retired, read "A Long Walk to Water" to consider teaching it in their classes. Jax said she and Morz were so inspired by the book that they decided to get involved in the cause of providing food and medical relief for South Sudan.
"We were going to raise money, and we decided to see if there were any of the South Sudanese young men living in Columbus," Jax said.
The teachers' research led them to Bol Aweng, a native of Piol, Sudan, who had settled in Columbus and graduated from Ohio State University. Aweng, with help from supporters in Ohio and around the world, now works with the nonprofit Buckeye Clinic, which provides health care resources to his home village.
Each school year, Aweng shares his story with the middle school's students to help them gain an understanding of the need for humanitarian aid in South Sudan.
"Bol has such a meaningful impact when he so courageously shares his story," Jax said.
Aweng will lead the walk/ run, as he has done in previous years. The seventh-graders will be joined by Cassingham Elementary School third-graders for the first few laps.
"They simulate how old Bol was when he became an orphan," Jax said. "He was only 6 years old."
The walk/run will include a student-run carnival. Other student-organized fundraising activities this school year included a May 11 "Pie the Teacher" event, during which students paid to shove a pie in the faces of willing teachers.
"This project has evolved to be very student driven," Jax said. "They have fun doing it, but they understand the purpose."
The seventh-graders have raised $4,300 of their $6,000 goal to date this school year, Jax said. The school's South Sudan Project has raised more than $35,000 since its inception six years ago.
"When we were presented in class with the South Sudan project for Bol, I was really moved and I wanted to help in any way I can," said seventh-grader Nikki Langford, who donated all of the money she received for her 13th birthday to the school project.
Through the South Sudan project, the students not only learn about other cultures but develop organizing and fundraising skills, Jax said.
"Because these events are organized by them, they get really involved," she said. "I see a change in them in terms of leadership. Students who are quieter get really engaged. They're intrinsically motivated to want to help."