From pennies to road races

Woodland women’s group lends a helping hand

Woodland sophomore Rebecca Garbowski collects pennies from Laurel Ledge third grader Dean Spataro as part of the Woodland for Women Worldwide pennies for Pencils drive April 26. PHOTO BY LARAINE WESCHLER

BEACON FALLS – Salsabil Luzeri, a junior at Woodland Regional High School, held up a pencil to Colleen Gabriel’s third-grade students.

“What do you do with this?” she asked.

The students knew the answer – You use it to write.

Luzeri held up a stick.

“And this?” she asked. “Can you write with a stick?”

No, the children said. What a silly question.

But, they learned, schoolchildren in Africa do write with sticks in the dirt because they can’t afford pencils.

That is why Gabriel’s third-graders, along with their peers at Laurel Ledge and Algonquin elementary schools are collecting pennies for pencils.

One penny can buy one pencil in Africa, according to Luzeri.

They hope to use the money they collect to donate to CAMFED, the Campaign for Female Education.

For the past month, Woodland students from the group Woodland for Women Worldwide have been visiting each elementary class to tell them about education in developing countries, where most girls drop out before middle school.

At Algonquin, Principal Lynn Patterson has promised to wear a different color wig every day for a week if students collect 30,000 pennies, and the students love the idea.

Woodland junior Salsabil Luzeri talks to Colleen Gabriel’s third grade class at Laurel Ledge about how schoolchildren in Africa write with sticks because they can’t afford pencils on April 26. PHOTO BY LARAINE WESCHLER


“My little sister goes around the house looking for pennies,” Luzeri said. Her sister attends Algonquin.

The students are much invested in the idea of promoting education for those who don’t have what they do, said Deb Flaherty, co-founder of Woodland for Women Worldwide.

The elementary school program is not the only effort the group is working on to help women in need.

The pennies collected will be counted at another event the group is planning for May 21, the second annual Run for a Revolution.

Last year, the five kilometer run brought in 500 racers and raised $16,000. This year, organizers are hoping to nearly double that to 800 participants and $30,000.

“It’s more than just a race. It’s a big community event,” Flaherty said.

The event includes live music by JHat, vendors, including Beads for Dreams, jewelry made by women in Uganda, children activities and a morning Zumba warm up presented by Live, Love, Dance Studio in Prospect.

Anna Lyn Macord, the star of 90210, will be back this year to present abolitionist Somaly Mam, one of TIME Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People of 2009, with the Heroine Award.

Mam is the author of “The Road of Lost Innocence,” an autobiography about her childhood as a sex slave in Cambodia and her mission to end human trafficking around the world.

The book inspired Woodland students who learned about human trafficking in class to start Woodland for Women Worldwide. They will donate proceeds from the race to the Somaly Mam Foundation and other organizations that help women.

“We have alumni and current students who are so excited to meet her because she’s the reason we’re doing what we’re doing,” Flaherty said.

The Somaly Mam Foundation posted a story about Woodland for Women Worldwide on its website, which is where Macord found out about the event last year.

“[The Somaly Mam Foundation] still really stays and works at the grass roots level. [Mam] has worked with very, very big names, but still, she’s coming here,” Flaherty said.

Mam will do a book signing and interview for students at the race.

Besides all the work the group is doing to raise money and plan the race, they were recently invited to Vital Voices Global Leadership 10th Annual Awards Ceremony. Vital Voices is a group established by Hillary Clinton and Madeline Albright to promote women around the world who are making political change and taking a stance in human rights and entrepreneurial mobility. Four senior girls from Woodland High School went to Washington D.C. in April to attend the ceremony at the Kennedy Center, according to Flaherty.

During their trip, the students met with U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro in her office and spoke with her for half an hour about the work they’ve been doing.

DeLauro related their mission to her experience traveling the world and seeing the condition of women in Afghanistan, according to Flaherty.

“It put some validity to what the girls were doing,” Flaherty said. “It was really neat for our girls to do that. I think it really had an impact on them.”