Heathwood Students Connect with African Pen Pals Through Himalayan Institute

Friday, October 27, 2017

Eighteen Heathwood 7th graders have new friends halfway around the world, thanks to a pen pal program inspired by one of their summer reading books.

I Will Always Write Back: How One Letter Changed Two Lives tells the story of American Caitlin Alifirinka and Zimbabwean Martin Ganda, who struck up a transformative friendship when Caitlin’s class was assigned to write letters to strangers in other parts of the world.

When Heathwood students who had read the book expressed interest in connecting with African students, Heathwood yoga teacher Pam Meriwether reached out to colleagues in the Himalayan Institute, a nonprofit that does humanitarian work in Cameroon.  Through the institute, the Heathwood students were connected with 10 Cameroonian middle schoolers who study at the Himalayan Institute Library there. The students have exchanged letters and hope to continue doing so.

An even larger group of 6th, 7th, and 8th graders met recently at lunch for a Middle School Book Club discussion of I Will Always Write Back, centered around the themes of empathy and hope, which are strongly present in the book and have been focal points of Mindful in the Hall, Heathwood’s middle school mindfulness program. Over pizza and cookies in Mrs. Swick’s room, the students talked about how the book inspired them or shaped their understanding of global culture.

Meanwhile, like Caitlin and Martin, the Heathwood students participating in the pen pal program are getting to know their new friends and learning a lot about how life is both similar and different in West Africa.