Schenectady County

Pencils sharpen Schenectady girls’ focus on greater good

Until this year, it never occurred to Selena Halidy to cherish her pencils.

Until this year, it never occurred to Selena Halidy to cherish her pencils.

She and her fellow eighth-graders at Mont Pleasant Middle School were shocked to learn that in Uganda, some students must break their pencils into pieces to share because they don’t have enough.

Seven Mont Pleasant girls meet weekly as part of the Working Group for Girls. Recently, they decided to focus on the small injustices that other girls face.

“We shouldn’t be taking things for granted,” said Melissa Jodah, 14.

But they all agreed that they would never have thought to be grateful for something as simple as a pencil.

“It’s just a pencil,” said Rhea Rising, 14. “I always have one in my back pocket.”

They put boxes in businesses at City Hall, asking for donations of pens, pencils and chalk. They also ran a bake sale, earning $300. All of it is being sent to one school for girls in Uganda.

They’re hoping to get a letter in return, hinting at the girls’ reaction to the bounty of pens and pencils.

“They’re not used to having one whole pencil to themselves,” said Halidy, 14. “We get help so we have more than we need at the end of the school year.”

She and the other girls wrote letters that they included with their shipment of writing utensils.

“Some of them were hoping to be pen pals because they were fascinated by the story,” said school counselor Cathy Snyder.

They also sent friendship bracelets. The Ugandan girls have already sent them bracelets and necklaces made with colorful beads from rolled-up magazine pages.

But will the pencils lead to long-term pen-pal exchanges? Or will the Uganda girls be offended by the box of donations?

“I’d be grateful someone was actually thinking of us,” Jodah said.

The girls agreed that if they received a similar bounty — say, a box of iPads from a richer country — they would be thrilled.

“I would send something to them,” Halidy said hopefully.

The girls added that they are solidly on their prospective pen pals’ side. They were horrified to learn that the girls have to walk up to four miles for water, must miss school for a week when they get their period and, worst of all, get fed less than the boys.

“The boys get more food than the girls! That’s not fair! They get two cups of rice. The girls get one,” said Sarena Rajram, 14.

They all agreed that was the worst of the many things they had learned about the Ugandan girls’ lives.

“The girls could’ve died of starvation,” Jodah said.

But they can’t send enough food to make a difference.

Pencils, though — that they could do.

“We could help them get school supplies,” Halidy said.

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