Considered one of the least developed countries in the world, Rwanda is an unusual destination for high school groups, but it had been a focus of study and service for the three Upper Valley students who traveled there in December.
The teenagers -- Lizzy King, 17, and Kylie Butler, 16, juniors at Thetford Academy, and Rebecca Young-Ward, 16, a junior at The Sharon Academy -- participate in Operation Day's Work-USA, a student organization at 18 schools nationwide, including six in the Upper Valley: Lebanon High School, Hanover High School, the Newton School in Strafford, Thetford Academy, Chelsea High School and The Sharon Academy. Operation Day's Work culminates each spring in a workday: Students donate money they earn doing odd jobs in the community, from washing windows to picking fruit, to a project of their choosing that benefits young people and education in a developing country.
Schools involved in Operation Day's Work across the country voted last school year to support a program in Rwanda that helps young people orphaned by AIDS become financially self-sufficient. Project Independence, launched in July using money donated by Operation Day's Work students, is run by CHABHA (Children Affected By HIV/AIDS), a nonprofit based in West Windham, Vt. Students at the 15 schools participating last year raised $26,000 for the project, including $12,000 at Thetford Academy, where nearly all students take part in the workday. Thetford Academy, which has some 400 students, is an independent school that serves as the public school for seventh- through 12th-graders in Thetford.
But Operation Day's Work isn't just about raising money. Students also learn about the country where the project takes place, then share the knowledge with their school and community. Thetford Academy offers a semester-long class in which students study the country, educate others about it and organize the year's workday. Lizzy took the class last school year, while Kylie took it both her freshman and sophomore years.
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