South Charlotte

Piedmont Open IB Middle School students walk 5 miles to school, raise $5,000

Piedmont Open IB Middle School Principal Jackie Barone, in the red hat, leads a group of students on a 5-mile walk to school to help raise money and awareness of struggles students face in a rural village in Malawi.
Piedmont Open IB Middle School Principal Jackie Barone, in the red hat, leads a group of students on a 5-mile walk to school to help raise money and awareness of struggles students face in a rural village in Malawi. MARTY MINCHIN

Almost 100 students from Piedmont Open IB Middle School gathered behind Park Road Shopping Center on a recent overcast morning to walk 5 miles to school.

Piedmont teacher Jonathan George, who organized the walk, had hoped it would rain.

“I think it would get the point across to students of the difficulties and annoyances students in Malawi have,” he said.

The second annual walk to school was organized to raise money and bring awareness to the plight of students in the African country of Malawi, some who start school a few years late because they are too young for the 10-mile round-trip trek to school in the rainy season.

George worked with Steve Cook of Charlotte, who began traveling to Malawi in 2007 after reading an article online about human trafficking. Cook became a human rights activist and started Equitas, a nonprofit organization that has raised money for medicine, clean water projects and schools in Sudan and Malawi.

George lived in Malawi in 2009 and 2010, where he directed program that used sports for social development. He organized the 5-mile walk at Piedmont after learning that some of the students that Equitas sponsors have to walk that far to school.

Students who raised $20 in donations participated in the walk, and those who raised $40 received an event T-shirt designed by a student. Students raised almost $5,000.

The money will go to a $325,000 project to build a four-room primary school in a rural village in Malawi. The school will eliminate the long walk for many students, and leaders expect about 160 children to enroll.

Piedmont Open IB Middle students of all ages participated in the walk, as well as parent chaperones and school principal Jackie Barone. Some students carried full backpacks.

The group left Park Road Shopping Center about 9 a.m., and the walk took two hours.

Seventh-grader Sarah Thompson said her legs hurt after awhile, but she was glad to be outside and walk for a cause.

“I participated in the walk because I love school, and I want everyone around the world to feel that too,” she wrote in an email. “These kids in Malawi don’t get to fulfill their dreams because they don’t have the education.”

Sophia Kafiti, who also is in seventh grade, said she enjoyed the walk but got tired toward the end.

“It better connected me to the students because the students in Malawi have to do this every single day, and I was struggling just doing it one day,” she wrote in an email. “Now I may not know how they feel every single day, but I did experience for a little bit what it feels like.”

Cook said Equitas is working with village leaders and the government of Malawi to build the school in four phases. Equitas is raising the money for the project, villagers have donated the land and made more than 20,000 bricks for the school and the Malawi government will pay teachers’ salaries.

The school will have four classrooms, two houses for teachers to live on campus and an administrative building.

“It will be a really nice campus,” Cook said. “Someone told me recently that this school will literally change the face of that area.”

Marty Minchin is a freelance writer. Have a story idea for Marty? Email her at martyminchin@gmail.com.

Learn more:

For information about Equitas, visit http://equitas.cc.

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