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Light up, light up, Wenona!

Last week, Wenona’s Year 4 students helped to build a brighter future for children in remote communities in PNG, by making solar lights so they can study after dark.

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Throughout this term, Ms Gordon and Ms Monk’s Year 4 students have been exploring rights and responsibilities through their Sharing the Planet Unit of Inquiry, and more specifically, the right of all children to an education. It’s prompted them to look more deeply into the United Nations Convention of the Rights of the Child, and to think about how children’s access to education in Australia compares with neighbouring and developing countries. They were surprised to learn that even though a mere 3.6 kilometres separates Australia from Papua New Guinea (PNG), there is a striking disparity of poverty and wealth between our two countries, with 38 percent of children under the age of eight in PNG unable to read or write.

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In the course of their research, Year 4 also discovered that 1.4 billion people from around the world don’t have access to reliable electricity – something that here in Australia, we largely take for granted. As Ms Gordon explained, solar lights have economic and health benefits for people living in isolated regions of the world, without access to electricity. “A lot of people rely on kerosene lamps, candles and wood,” she said. “They are bad for their health, bad for the environment and they are expensive, with a lot of the household income going towards these types of fuels.”

PNG holds a special place in Ms Gordon’s heart. She was last there in 2018, when she accompanied a group of Wenona students and their mums on the Kokoda Trail. While she was there, she took the opportunity to deliver some solar-powered lights to a remote village community. She was able to see for herself just how important these lights are for school-aged children, enabling them to study after dark.

The students decided they too wanted to take positive action. So, Ms Gordon contacted the Kokoda Track Foundation (KTF), who work closely with Australian charity, Solar Buddy, enabling students in Australia to build solar-powered lights to send to children living in remote communities overseas. The lights are small, portable and waterproof, making them perfect for kids to use, especially in the tropical conditions of PNG.

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“All you have to do is click a button and charge them,” explained Ms Gordon. “They work for up to eight hours a day.”

Prior to making the solar lights, Year 4 participated in a Zoom conference call with Martha Bentley, Programs Manager – Education with KTF. She explained a little bit about how hard life can be for people living in remote and rural communities in PNG, and how important education is as a way out of poverty. She said that access to a solar light can be life-changing for a child here, enabling them to study out of school hours. It made the students reflect that as Australia is neighbours with PNG, we really have a duty to lend a hand.

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After talking with Martha, the students were excited to make the Solar Buddy lights. They worked collaboratively together, following the instructions to make their light packs. They were also excited to write messages to the families who will receive their solar lights. And they all hope that one day, they can pop over to PNG on a field trip to further their research and meet some of the children in remote communities to further understand their experiences of schooling.

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After the lesson, Lucinda reflected long and hard on what she had learnt. She decided she wanted to do more to help children in need, so she researched how to make slime and came up with the idea of selling slime and smiles to raise money for the Smith Family here in Australia. With 10,740 children experiencing disadvantage, Lucinda is determined to raise as much money as she can so that she can play a part in making sure they don’t fall even further behind.

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Our aim is that through inquiry, our students come up with responsible, thoughtful and meaningful action that will make a positive impact. Over the course of this term, it’s been great to see our students become more internationally minded and develop higher-level reflective thinking skills about the world and their place in it. It’s also been great to see them connect their learning about rights and responsibilities and give it a sense of purpose by making solar lights. And it’s great to see this impact have a domino effect, in that it also inspired Lucinda to think critically and creatively, do her own research and take personal action to make a difference for people in need.

Great work Year 4!

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