First grade teacher Mrs. Smith (real name) found many interesting ideas and activities in the curriculum for her class unit on Africa. What she didn’t see was a way to teach her kids compassion. So when she happened upon a newspaper article about an organization that helped families in the impoverished country of Niger become self-sufficient by gifting them with animals, she thought, Perfect! Even first-graders can raise $35 to buy a goat!
The very next morning the money started coming in. “I cleaned my room,” Jessie reported. She handed over a quarter.
“I swept the walk,” said Michael. He had 35 cents in dimes and nickels.
And so it continued, day after day. Whether a penny or a dollar bill, everyone in the class clapped and cheered as each contribution clinked into the basket. Each day the children counted out the money and joyfully charted the total.
Three weeks later, Mrs. Smith announced the money to buy the goat had already been raised—two months ahead of schedule!
“Let’s get a lamb next!” Elizabeth said. Mrs. Smith tried to protest that the project was over, but the kids insisted they had the right to vote. The lamb won. Her name would be Daisy.
Every day the children brought more money. Daisy was paid for by the end of October. The class voted to buy another lamb—Sarah, they called her. This time Mrs. Smith offered to match whatever money the children actually earned. The children were meticulous in their accounting:
“25 cents for making my bed, so that can be doubled. This 25 cents Mom gave me, so it can’t be. 25 plus 25 is 50, plus one more 25… 75 cents for Sarah the lamb!”
The children found Niger on the globe, wrote reports on the country, and exchanged letters with children in a school there. By Thanksgiving, Sarah the lamb was paid for.
The children wanted to get another animal, but which one? “Maybe a donkey,” one child suggested. It cost $75. “Well, not the camel!” another insisted. “It costs $400. We can’t earn that much!” Mrs. Smith agreed, but she had promised the kids could vote. They voted to get both animals.
The next day Jessie brought a quarter and two nickels. “I found them under the couch cushions,” she said. Everyone rushed home that afternoon to search under the cushions. And they came back with handfuls of change. All except James. He had a dollar bill. “I found my dad’s nail clippers under the cushion and he gave me this dollar for a reward!”
When Rachel dropped in her dollar, she said, “From the tooth fairy. My tooth came out last night.” All the kids started wiggling their teeth as they counted the day’s profits.
In several Christmas-bedecked homes of first-graders, another strange phenomenon began to emerge. Moms and dads, peeking at Christmas letters to Santa, found them headed by: An animal for a family in Niger.
Not only did Mrs. Smith’s class of first graders raise the money for the donkey and Bumpy the camel, but also for school supplies for every child in the school where they exchanged letters.
How do you wrap a goat for Christmas? With compassion. And with love. And with the faith of a child.
“I wish we could buy water for all those animals to drink!”
Erik, first-grader in Mrs. Smith’s class
(From my book Harvest of Hope: Stories of Life-Changing Gifts)