By Trevor Suffield
Feb. 5, 2009
For the past seven years, students of a River Heights elementary school have been helping to build schools in Vietnam by reading books.
Through read-a-thons, Rockwood School students have raised over $10,000 for the Winnipeg-based charity Canadians Helping Kids in Vietnam.
Rockwood held a kickoff to February's reading month with a dinner last week which also celebrated Vietnamese New Year.
The event, which featured authentic Vietnamese food, music, and a dragon dance, attracted over 100 people to the school.
Grade 4 student Shea Penney got to perform the dragon dance, and thinks it's important to lend a hand.
Helping out and giving money so that people can to go to school is nice and really important, said Penney.
In a past read-a-thon, Grade 6 student Madeline Robinson finished 10 books and says it's fun to help out.
I love reading and so I usually collect a lot of money, and it feels so good to hand in the envelope in and say ˜I just gave money to kids so that they can go to school," said Robinson.
Students at the school also sponsor a Vietnamese family for $20 a month.
Teacher Jennifer Elliot is the one who connected CHKV with Rockwood School.
In 2000, she traveled to Vietnam to complete the adoption of her son, William.
I became aware, first hand, of the conditions in that country, said Elliot.
When my son was older, I really wanted him to have a positive connection with the country where he was born, she said, adding that a friend told them about CHKV.
She joined their board with her husband and then had the idea to raise money for CHKV's school building projects through read-a-thons at the school.
Tam Nguyen, president of CHKV, was invited by Elliot to share his story with the students.
I thought maybe we'd raise a few hundred dollars, but that first year we raised over $3,000, Elliot said, noting that the students received no personal incentives.
Originally born in Vietnam, Nguyen considers himself lucky to have escaped and to have settled in Winnipeg in 1980.
With nothing more than a little rickety boat, and thought to be near his certain death many times, Nguyen made a vow that if he survived he would one day help others would couldn't leave.
I always kept that promise in my mind, and in 1995 I said I should do it now before it's too late, said Nguyen, who owns Tam Custom Tailor shop on Ellice Avenue.
He has made good on that promise, as CHKV has raised over $130,000 to date.
The next read-a-thon at Rockwood started this past Monday, and Nguyen, who has two kids of his own, is proud of the students of Rockwood and elsewhere who have helped out.
He still has family in Vietnam and regularly travels back to visit. He also travels with members of CHKV, so they can see for themselves the difference the charity makes.
Unfortunately he will not be able to attend the opening of the newest school at the end of March.
However, it will feature a banner that reads: This school was built for the children of Vietnam by the children and parents of Rockwood School.
CHKV's annual dinner will be held in May.
For more information visit www.chkv.org.