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Markham student amasses ‘pencil mountain’ for kids in Ethiopia

Posted by Ethio Tribune on July 4, 2012

On her first trip to her parents’ native Ethiopia, Hannah Godefa became friends with kids at her grandparents’ rural home in Axum.

When told she couldn’t be their pen pal because they didn’t have pencils and paper to write her, Godefa returned to Canada and started collecting pencils for her new friends.

She launched a drive at her then school, Divine Mercy Catholic Elementary in Maple, and approached local churches and businesses for donations.

Since the inception of her campaign in 2005, Godefa, now 14, has collected more than 400,000 pencils and delivered two shipments to schools in Axum.

In two weeks, the Grade 9 student from Markham’s St. Elizabeth Catholic High School will travel to Ethiopia to deliver science books and other school supplies.

“It’s really amazing,” said Godefa, who has just been honoured with the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Medal for her volunteer efforts. “For you and me, a pencil is not a big deal, but it makes a big difference to the education of these children in Ethiopia. How is a child expected to learn when there’s no pencil or supplies?”

Godefa’s Pencil Mountain campaign has inspired many, including a 10-year-old girl who donated her $150 birthday money and elderly members at Godefa’s local parish who emptied their coin purses week after week to raise money for the supplies.

The success of her campaign surprised not only her but then principal Opiyo Oloya at Divine Mercy, who was initially hesitant about the idea.

“But Hannah was a very persistent young person and you just can’t say no to her. And soon pencils started coming in to the school by boxes, and it went on and on,” recalled Oloya, now a superintendent of education with the York Catholic District School Board.

“She is a tiny girl with the biggest smile. While other young people may be passionate about something and want to help out, Hannah brings leadership to make it happen.”

On her last trip to deliver the donations in 2011, Godefa became somewhat of a celebrity, invited to meet with government officials in the Ethiopian parliament and interviewed by local media before being appointed the country’s Youth and Goodwill Ambassador.

In the last year, Godefa said, she has focused on collecting books about science and technology for high school students as basic education needs are better met in Ethiopia.

She has already launched a website to promote her cause and is in the process of registering the Hannah Godefa Foundation as a charity.

“Hannah has taught me a lot as a principal,” said Oloya. “As young as she is, kids can make a difference. I’m so proud of her.”

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