Pen pals are the window to another country for Spokane Valley fourth-graders who are learning what life is like for children their age in the West African country of Ghana.
The third delivery of handwritten letters arrived from the Future Academy this week, each one addressed to one of Judy Rasmussen’s students at Adams Elementary.
They’ve been writing letters since the beginning of the school year, Rasmussen said. The Adams students also raise money for their pen pals’ school. This year they raised $500 through their Buck-a-Book sale.
That cash helped build wood classroom doors for the Ghanaian school. In prior years, the fundraiser helped build tables in the cafeteria and purchase six used computers for the school.
“I think it’s surprising for them that not everybody lives like we do,” Rasmussen said.
The nonprofit school located near the city of Kumasi has about 400 students, according to its website.
Rasmussen passed out letters Wednesday before lunch.
Jessica Bischoff, 9, found a quiet spot to whisper her pen pal’s words out loud.
“I just like knowing what’s happening with how my pen pal is doing,” Jessica said. “It sounds like she has some fun out there too, and she enjoys learning a lot.”
In the recent round of letters, composed by the Ghanaian students around the holidays, traditions and family were the highlights. One pen pal enjoys the popular Ghanaian dish fufu and groundnut soup. Others write about favorite hobbies and football, which Rasmussen reminds her students, is also known as soccer.
The two classes have used Skype to meet face-to-face.
“One of the things I think is very important for them to understand is the appreciation for our pen pals to have an education because they have to work so hard to get an education,” Rasmussen said. “They don’t have any supplies and a lot of them don’t have schools in their villages.”
Rasmussen has been working with the academy for about six years to build a pen pal program and help their education through fundraisers. Another fourth-grade classroom has since joined the project. Scott Marlow’s students also write letters and participate in the fundraiser.
“It doesn’t matter how old you are, but I think we realized through this program that anybody can find somebody who needs something and at any age you can find a way to help,” Rasmussen said.
Before her students could head to lunch, she prompted them to write down at least one question they could ask their pen pal to start their own letter.
On the other side of the world, there’s another child waiting for their pen pal to write back.