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From Basalt to the bush

John ColsonAspen, CO Colorado
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BASALT A Basalt teacher has by now landed in South Africa and begun handing out some 350 pounds of school supplies and other goodies for students at a school in a village called Thakalang.The teacher, Kathryn Wells, is spending a school year in Basalt as a special education assistant, after spending the last three years in South Africa working on a master’s degree in wildlife management, to add to her bachelor’s degree from Colorado State University.Her visit back to the village, in the company of her mom, coincides with spring break, and she has been told she’ll be greeted by students performing a traditional dance that she can videotape and share with youngsters in Basalt.”The entire village is preparing a ceremony to welcome their foreign friends in hopes of setting up a cultural exchange that can last a lifetime,” Wells said. “The village has recently received Internet access, making the future correspondence possible. I will be filming the entire trip and hope to bring the lesson home to share with as many people and children that I can. You can never have too much awareness, especially of cultures and children across the world.”

The 28-year-old teacher said her load of donated items includes school supplies from Staples, games and Frisbees from WalMart and art supplies from Target, as well as bags and bags of stuff brought in by her first-grade students from home. Plus, other classes at BES have contributed items for the exchange, such as a a painting created by the kindergarten class of Karen Passchier.It’s all intended for children living in a village with no electricity in the homes, no commercial center to speak of, in fact not much but the huts the people live in.But, she emphasized, “It’s a beautiful, traditional village.”As part of her work in South Africa, where she studied through the University of Pretoria, she helped out at an elephant sanctuary, where native people learned about the importance of saving elephants threatened with extinction due to habitat loss and hunting.

And now that she is teaching in Basalt, she said, “I felt this was a great opportunity to teach my kids in Basalt about them [the children of Thakalang] and them about us.”In addition to all the supplies, she is taking letters written by her Basalt students to the students in Thakalang, and a scrapbook illustrating life in this area.”Our first-grade class has made a book about life in Colorado, learned letter-writing skills in order to ask questions to our foreign friends, produced original works of art, and made a scrapbook ‘all about us’ for a class of equal age and size in the village,” she explained, adding that the scrapbook contains drawings, photographs and materials that the Thakalang kids can use to decorate their classroom.She planed to take plenty of pictures during the two weeks she’ll spend over there, to bring back and show to her students here.

“They don’t understand about going to another country, to where there are kids in need,” she said of her Basalt first-graders. “This way they’ll actually see it. My goal is to expose as many children as possible to new cultures and traditions in order to create a greater acceptance and knowledge of mankind.”She said she welcomes e-mails from home while she’s in Africa, assuming the Internet connection is working and she can use it. Her e-mail address is kathrynw@rfsd.k12.co.usJohn Colson’s e-mail address is jcolson@aspentimes.com


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