Salem School students waging penny war for library in African village

Former Salem School student Erin Dowden (center) poses with some of the African villagers she serves in the Peace Corps. /Submitted photo

A school-wide penny war is going on at Salem School to help a former Salem student build a public library in Africa.

Erin Dowden, who went to school at Salem, earned a teaching degree from San Diego State, and is currently a Peace Corps volunteer in The Gambia, Africa.

Salem teacher Anne Woodward recently asked Dowden if there was something her class could do to help Dowden in her work in Africa. Here’s part of Dowden’s reply:

I’m not at all sure that you would be interested in something of this scale, but as a part of our overall goals to improve literacy, Boiram is working to build a library. In the upper regions of the country, most 9th graders graduate being functionally illiterate. Moreover, most parents are aware of these results and thus opt to have their children labor at home as opposed to attending school. Therefore, within a village such as mine, it could be estimated that less than 10% of the population is literate! The school is beginning to instill a phonics program, which encourages interactive learning and the blending of words (before, every word was a sight word for these children) and we are working hard to create teaching aids to make each classroom a welcoming and educational environment. As of right now, the school has a small, insect-infested room serving as their library. It seats roughly eight and provides a very small selection of engaging, readable material for the children. The new library building is partially complete, but due to a series of unfortunate events remains unfinished! Anyhow, I am hoping to start a Peace Corps Partnership to receive funding from The States! The community will be contributing over 30 percent of the total cost (they will provide all of the labor, transportation, and locally available materials); yet, we estimate that we will still need nearly $1,800 in outside support!

Woodward said she was interested in helping and she talked to Principal Eileen Bruton about possible fundraisers. Bruton reminded Woodward of the success of a penny war last year to benefit Haiti earthquake victims and they decided to launch another penny war for this week.

Grades will earn a point for every penny contributed in their grade, and they lose points for every silver coin or bill that is put in their container by someone from another grade.

“The winners earn school bragging rights, and everyone gets the satisfaction of helping those who are far less fortunate than them,” Woodward said.

Note: Check back at to see how they did. — DH


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