LIMA — The second-graders asked questions, wiggled in their seats and acted like typical children for most of the hour.
But a silence fell over the South Science Technology Magnet pupils when Leslie Rigali told the story Tuesday of a South African girl who came to school each Monday sick because she hadn’t eaten a thing all weekend.
“It has had an impact on them,” teacher Kathy Walker said of her pupils' new friendship with Nhlengelo Primary School in Mpumalanga, South Africa. “I think it has just made them more aware.”
The pupils met Tuesday for the second time with Leslie Rigali, a former Lima business owner and executive director of the African Research and Conservation Foundation.
Rigali recently returned from a three-week trip to South Africa. She brought back hand-carved wooden animals for each pupil and pictures and stories about the animals in Mpumalanga and the children at the school.
“You now have a very special connection to these children in South Africa,” Rigali told pupils. “So you become a richer person because you know about it.”
During her last visit to South Africa, Rigali came with school supplies collected by the South second-graders and a book they wrote about their school and community, “Where in the World is the South Science Tech Magnet?” .
“We had kids actually get into their desks and take supplies out to send,” Walker said. “They felt they really needed to help the kids.”
Maggie Broomfield, 8, summed up the Lima pupils' motivation: “We want to help them learn."
Outside Walker’s classroom hang drawings and letters sent to her class from the South African pupils.
Hunter Metz, 8, said he likes learning about the South African school, its children and what they eat. During Rigali’s last visit to the classroom, she brought food for the pupils to try.
“It was really good,” Hunter said of the pap, which the South African schoolchildren eat every day. Hunter said he would never try the mopani worms he saw Rigali eat in photographs.
Mpumalanga is one of the poorest provinces in South Africa. Many of the children at the school are orphans. More than 3 million AIDS orphans live in South Africa.
“It was nothing to walk into a yard and see mom and dad buried there and a 12-year-old head of household,” Rigali said.
The foundation started in 2012 and partnered with others, including the Mpumalanga Department of Education, to build a new school. They brought water and electricity to the school, a luxury the children do not have at home.
The old classrooms have been turned into a medical clinic for the children. The next phase is a playground and another building for additional classrooms. A third phase will include an administration building, library/computer center and an adult education/skills training center.
The South pupils have researched South Africa, and Rigali sent messages and pictures to them daily while she was there. Walker said it has made her pupils aware of a different culture while at the same time showing them how they are alike.
Rigali taught pupils a few words she’s learned in South Africa, putting special emphasis on “Ubuntu.” It means “A person is a person through other persons.”
“The more we understand other people, the more we know about them, the more tolerant we are going to be,” she said. “The more accepting and caring we are going to be about other people.”