UNI education students give back

There are times in life when we have a chance to make an impact on people who are less fortunate. When that opportunity came, Kaitlin Kivell and Abby Lundy, University of Northern Iowa seniors majoring in elementary education, knew what to do. Kivell and Lundy spearheaded a project to promote literacy to orphans in Panama and Haiti.

UNI education students
UNI education students wrote and illustrated books that will be sent to orphanages in Panama and Haiti. Schools around the Cedar Valley joined this effort by translating, writing and illustrating books of their own.

Two of Kivell and Lundy's education courses assigned students a service-learning project. Kivell suggested to Lundy that they do something to help an orphanage Kivell’s aunt visits in Panama. The classes decided to write bilingual books and send them to the orphanage.

We had been assigned an article with something similar to what we were doing,” explained Kivell. “My aunt has visited Panama the past couple of years, and she got involved with an orphanage. After talking to her and reading her blog, I started thinking this is something that we can actually put into practice.”

This spawned an idea from Lundy. “After Kaitlin suggested incorporating the orphanage her aunt visits in Panama, I recommended the orphanage I know about in Haiti,” said Lundy.

From there, the project spread across the Cedar Valley. Sarah Montgomery, assistant professor teaching the education courses, mentioned the idea to her husband, who is a professor at Wartburg College. Now French and Spanish students at Wartburg are translating the books. Lundy, an alum of Waterloo East High School, contacted French and Spanish teachers there and they are now writing their own books and illustrating them with art students. Word then spread to Cedar Falls High School, where French students also started writing books.

“The goal is to do something that will make a difference to these children,” explained Kivell. “They don’t have a lot, so to do something that will bring joy to them is a great opportunity.”

“We hope to not only educate ourselves about the orphanage, but to do what we can to help them,” added Lundy.

Not only do Kivell and Lundy want to have an impact in Panama and Haiti, but they also hope to influence the Cedar Valley. “The message I’ve been sharing with the students at Waterloo East is a reminder that I was once in their seats,” said Lundy. “I tell them it might seem like a scary idea at first, but if you believe in others for help, you’ll be surprised by the overwhelming response.”

“I hope people realize that the first step in doing anything is simply suggesting it,” said Kivell. “I hope people put their ideas out there and try to find someone that is willing to listen and help.”

Montgomery, whom both students noted for being an outstanding help in this project, expressed how proud she is of the work being done by Kivell, Lundy and all the participants. “I hope that this experience has helped my UNI students recognize the power of service-learning as a teaching strategy and show them how they can support active citizenship in their future classrooms.”

"I really appreciate Kaitlin and Abby working to make an authentic, collaborative service-learning project a part of our class," Montgomery continued. "Their initiative and enthusiasm for service-learning is what made this partnership possible."

When members of a community see a need to fill and they suggest ideas to solve the need, the possibilities are endless. “We have so many people helping us and we can’t thank them enough,” said Kivell.