CHARLOTTETOWN — Caitlin McCarthy has a class all her own.
It’s in a primary school in Mbaaria, Kenya.
And this 14-year-old Florenceville, N.B., student raised enough funds for the Prince Edward Island-based Farmers Helping Farmers (FHF) organization to construct an entire classroom for the children there.
“It was shocking. I never thought I’d be able to raise that much money. I did get a lot of support from everybody,” says Caitlin, who was in Charlottetown last month to accept a FHF Youth Award in recognition of her outstanding work on behalf of the students in Kenya.
“In addition to that, I think she has made people aware of what is happening in Africa and the situation there. So (the award) is being given for increasing global awareness,” adds FHF member Sandra MacKinnon.
In raising more than $5,000 to build a classroom at a Kinyinjere primary school, Caitlin eventually involved her whole community and, most of all, her brothers Brennan, 15, and Casey, 12.
“It wouldn’t have been possible without their help,” she says.
The class-funding project began after Caitlin’s uncle, Rick Brennan, organized a school-wide Walk for Water event for FHF at Sherwood Elementary in Charlottetown where he is vice-principal.
When Caitlin heard about FHF and its projects in Kenya she knew she wanted to help.
“We (as a family) sponsored a family (overseas), so my parents have always made us realize that there are less fortunate kids. And in the past couple of years I’ve always wanted to do something,” she says.
She contacted FHF co-ordinator Teresa Mellish, who suggested that Caitlin might like to help fund smaller projects such as a water tank or books for a school.
“She thought that that was OK but said she’d like to go for something more. So I suggested a vegetable garden at a school. It’s $1,000 to put a vegetable garden in place. And then I told her about a classroom,” Mellish remembers.
“All of the twinned schools (who are matched with schools in P.E.I.) need new classrooms, but this one in particular (more so). I said it would be $5,000 and she said she’d like to do it.”
Caitlin and her brothers put on a Christmas play at their church in December 2009 that raised more than $1,600.
“It was just all the catechists at our church. Everyone was in the play and did different parts,” she says.
Last Christmas her family also accepted money in lieu of the usual gift fanfare to put toward the classroom fund.
“She had an uncle and aunt who donated $150 in pennies, nickels and dimes so she and her brothers rolled for two months,” their mom, Angie McCarthy, said with a laugh.
The big fundraising event was in the fall of 2010 at the local Buttermilk Creek Festival.
Caitlin, Brennan and Casey hosted 10-, five- and two-kilometre walks which attracted more than 70 people.
Donations from that exceeded $3,600.
After the run, Scotiabank in Florenceville did a Halloween campaign for which employees decorated pumpkins at the bank one day.
“People came in and bought pumpkins, so after that it was kind of the whole community that (became involved),” Caitlin says.
The sum total of her classroom fundraising campaign totalled more than $5,800.
The classroom at Kinyinjere primary school was built in December 2010 when the children are traditionally out of school.
“They were delighted. This school really had bad classrooms. They were falling down. (The roof) was rusty. They had no windows. They had no doors … ” Mellish says.
“The floor was mud so when it rained, the rainwater would come in and the children’s feet would be wet and muddy because many of them are barefoot.
“And when it was windy, the wind went right through the place and although you and I might think it’s not cold in a tropical country the children were cold because it was too windy for them.”
The children are now schooled in a room that has doors and windows and two skylights in the ceiling. There is now even a blackboard at the front of the class that wasn’t there before.
Other classrooms have been built with various donations from Islanders since then.
“Basically, we’re done building classrooms at that school. (The students) now all have decent classrooms,” Mellish says.
Caitlin is going to do a repeat event at the festival this year to raise funds to for FHF projects.
“It felt really good to be able to know that I’ve helped lots of other people who might otherwise not have gotten a chance,” she says.
“And the whole experience definitely had an effect on me. Now I catch myself saying ’It would be great if I had this or this.’ I just kind of think about the kids in Third World countries.”
Mellish was bowled over by this 14-year-old’s determined feat of raising that much money in such a short time.
“I was totally impressed that she had the follow through to actually go ahead and do this,” Mellish says.
“For anybody to raise $5,000 is a feat, especially for a 14-year-old girl in Florenceville where we are not especially well known. She did it.
“She says she wants to go to Kenya too (someday) and I won’t be surprised if she does that (too).”