By JOHN KLINE
THE GOSHEN NEWS
GOSHEN — How far would you go to raise money for a good cause? Would you kiss a camel on the lips?
Over at Heritage Intermediate School in Middlebury this week, students and teachers celebrated the kickoff of their annual Olweus Bully Prevention Week with a number of fun activities centered around peace.
As part of that event, the students undertook a Heritage Pennies for Peace charitable donation challenge with the goal of raising enough money to purchase a camel through Heifer Project International, a charitable organization that provides animals such as camels, cows and rabbits to foreign countries in an effort to enable communities struggling for the basic necessities of food, income and education to build a better life.
As incentive for the campaign, school principal Kari Dyer and members of the school faculty made the promise that if the students raised the full $850 needed to purchase the camel, Dyer and the four top-earning teachers would have to kiss a camel.
And on Friday afternoon, they made good on their promise.
“We talked with the kids about how camels are life-giving animals, how they provide milk, and in some countries transportation to and from school and to doctor’s appointments for students. Through this we’re trying to help kids understand that we’re a global community and we have to help each other out,” said Dyer.
Not the least bit squeamish, Dyer kicked off Friday’s celebratory finale with head held high, grabbing the lucky camel by the sides of the head and planting a big ol’ kiss, complete with bright red lipstick applied especially for the occasion.
The camel, affectionately called “Jimmy” by his handler, Marcus Yoder, was provided for the event by Maple Lane Wildlife Farm of Topeka.
While kissing the camel was definitely the most anticipated event of the week for the kids, Dyer noted that the Olweus Bully Prevention Week involved numerous other activities designed to foster connectivity and peace within the school itself, as well as the surrounding community.
“We spend a whole week celebrating who each person is as an individual, trying to recognize that we’re all unique, and that we’re all special, and that we have differences, yet we have things in common as well,” Dyer said. “We started with Monday, which was Identity Day, where each student and staff member created a poster all about themselves, and they were then able to share it with several other students.”
Also on the week’s agenda was a paper crane building challenge that coincided with the school’s reading of the Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes story of peace.
“All the kids created paper cranes in art class,” Dyer said. “As a school the goal was to fold 1,000 cranes, and they ended up folding 1,600. So those are now on display in our cafeteria also.”
Also a big hit during the week was a double performance of Tim Hannig’s Pro-Kids Show, which aims to teach students respect and kindness and how to interact with others in a positive way.
While the weeks festivities were a combined effort of the entire staff and student body, Dyer said she’d be remiss if she did not give a special “thank you” to school councilor Kori Cripe, who she said really went the extra mile to ensure the week was a success.
“She coordinates pretty much this whole week for us,” Dyer said.
For her part, Cripe said she couldn’t have been happier with how the week turned out.
“The week has just been fascinating and exciting for the kids,” Cripe said. “They have looked forward to coming every day and putting in a few coins to promote our Pennies for Peace campaign, and get closer to being able to kiss the camel today. So its just been really exciting.”
But beyond all the fun and excitement, Cripe said it’s really all about the greater goal of fostering peace and understanding within the school and without.
So is all that hard work making a difference?
“Oh absolutely,” Cripe said with a smile. “I really see the kids learning. They’re learning how to give, how to give selflessly to others, and feel good about all the good work that they’re doing. So it’s really exciting.”