A tragedy unfolded last week in Niger when 20 small children burned to death in a school made of straw

·3 min read

TORONTO, April 22, 2021 /CNW/ - This story is personal to us and to the many Torontonians and Canadians who have joined us for the past 15 years since we founded Pencils for Kids, a charity made up entirely of volunteers, dedicated to helping with education in Niger.

When Pencils for Kids began in 2006, after hearing that 30 children were sharing one pencil in a classroom, we focused our energy on education for children. Niger is the poorest country in the world, ranking dead last on the UN Development index. During this time we initiated 14 kindergartens in Libore, a commune comprised of many villages. Only one of these kindergartens was built out of cement, as the cost of building with cement is extremely high. The other kindergartens have metal frameworks, but the top and sides are covered in straw, as this is the least expensive way to build a kindergarten facility. It is not ideal, but it also afforded an education to thousands of children 3 to 5 years of age.

On Wednesday, April 14th, our national media reported that tragedy had struck. In the capital Niamey, at a kindergarten built entirely of straw, 20 small children, ages 3-5, died when a fire started and the structure burned in minutes. They were unable to escape. As was written in one newspaper: "Wiping away tears with her veil, the school's director Habiba Gaya said all of Niger was in 'total mourning'. The little children, innocents, were really burned alive in this fire," she told AFP news agency, explaining that while older children were able to make it out, those aged five and under were not: "They were little so they weren't able to run."

In the wake of this tragedy, Pencils for Kids has undertaken to re-build each of our 13 kindergartens, converting them from metal and straw to cement structures. This is a huge undertaking, as each kindergarten will cost approximately $20,000 in Canadian funds, for a total of $260,000 to rebuild all 13 of them. But it will be a signal to the people of Niger that we care, that they are not forgotten and that the lives of their smallest citizens matter. "The global pandemic has taught us a lot about inequity in our own country and around the world," said Robin Mednick, President of Pencils for Kids. "It's a small step toward social justice to create a safer learning environment for these precious young children."

We are looking to raise Canadians' awareness of this terrible tragedy that has caused the country of Niger to go into mourning. "We are a tiny group but we will do whatever we can to help, and show our solidarity with the incredible people of Niger, who have so little and have lost so much." said Mednick. "We are reaching out to Canadians, asking for their help with this project."

Please also feel free to share this with anyone whom you feel may take an interest in this story. It would be most appreciated.

Pencils for Kids (P4K) is a Canadian charity run solely by volunteers, providing education, training, and income-generating opportunities to communities in Niger, West Africa. In addition to brick and mortar projects to build school facilities, our other major programmes include Scholarships for Girls, Sewing Programme, and Farmers of the Future. Charitable Number: 85271 5994 RR0001

SOURCE Pencils for Kids

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