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The Carletonian

Carleton students compile “Dear Friend: Letters of Peace”

<hal Burr ‘12, in conjunction with Children’s Culture Connection, has compiled and published a book of letters written by students at Cannon Falls School to children in Iraq titled ‘Dear Friend: Letters of Peace.’

Using 300 of the 1200 colorful letters that students at Cannon Falls submitted, Burr has compiled a book to voice the opinions, hopes and dreams of children who are writing and receiving feedback from children in Iraq.

The letter-writing was first inspired when ex-US Marine Swanson Gunnar walked 1000 miles from Dallas TX to Cannon Falls Minn., giving speeches and workshops along the way.

“Gunnar was an excellent role model for the students, who showed them that there are no boundaries to the human condition. He was able to positively influence both his home country as well as children in war-torn nations and inspired them to take action.” Missy Klapperich, a schoolteacher at Cannon Falls School, said.

Dina Fesler, from Children Culture Connection, the non-profit organization sponsoring this book, said, “We need to empower children because last summer, when I went fundraising across the country it shocked me how apathetic adults can be. They felt they could not make a difference and refused to donate money to the cause of countries at war. On the other hand, the kids were the ones whose enthusiasm never floundered and felt they could make a difference! Seeing the value in their optimism is essential and makes nothing unachievable.”

Burr got involved in this project in September and has been working with Children’s Culture Connection. Burr and fifteen other Carleton students designed a few pages each, culminating in a book with almost all pages laid out differently to symbolize the importance of individual voice.

“I was inspired by this book titled ‘Dear King,’ a series of letters to Martin Luther King, that had a profound impact on empowering the youth in my hometown, Memphis,” Burr said.

The books were printed on Nov. 3, and there will be a fundraising event on Nov. 7 at Cannon Falls School, where a Carleton bus will take students for the event. The books will be sold at a minimal price- just enough to sustain the cost of printing.

Furthermore, Burr is inviting six children to do a reading and book-signing event on Nov. 11 in the Gould Library Athanaeum, sponsored by the Carleton Art Department.

“This project is much more a Carleton students’ and Cannon Falls initiation. Frankly speaking, publishing for sale is not in our mission but this will undoubtedly raise more awareness and help us branch out our projects more.” Children’s Culture Connection, which works with partnered NGOs in 12 other nations, including Afghanistan, Haiti, India, Nicaragua and Iraq, serves to connect children to other peers in the world by engaging in service-projects that strengthen their ties and knowledge of cultures outside America and their will to change situations of conflict. Fesler says, “We are currently working on a project where American students have to raise a hundred dollars each to sponsor the vocational training of a peer in Afghanistan. In return, his Iraqi counterpart will teach what he learns to his pen pal- whether it is honey making, needlework or carpentry. The point of this is to enrich the Afghani students’ skill set so they have some entrepreneurial base upon which to stimulate their economy, thus giving them economic and emotional satisfaction and something to fight for. On the other hand, American students gain from it by learning about a fascinating aspect of another culture in its entirety including the challenges the people face in climate and different political conditions.”

Despite the fact that the book is an offshoot from their original mission, Fesler is happy about the opportunities it opens up for their NGO and the fact that the children are very excited about the book. She says, “I showed them a copy today and they were so amazed to see their names in print; their letters have made them realize their positions of strength- they’re not little kids anymore and their opinions matter, through the power of words.”

Burr has engaged in letter writing as a form of exercising political voice from a young age when she first wrote to President Clinton and received a letter back. She believes that, “it is essential to allow children to feel like they make a difference, something that is possible through writing letters.” And Klapperich, who is very proud of her students, says that the project is beneficial in empowering them not only to care for Iraqi students but for students all over the world. She says, “We have very loving and caring students at Cannon Falls as was evident in their letters. I think that their feeling of accomplishment will encourage them to be responsible global citizens for the rest of their lives.”

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