ITHACA, N.Y. –– On Monday night, 19 first-graders from Belle Sherman Elementary School presented calendars they had created to raise funds for local and international humanitarian groups. The event was called the 2020 “We Dream of a World” calendar launch, created by first-grade teacher Emily Graw.

The group, so far, has collected a total of $935.11 in donations to through calendar sales at GreenStar, Buffalo Street Books and Alternatives Federal Credit Union. 

“And those donations will benefit UNICEF for Yemen, Ithaca Free Clinic, Ithaca Welcomes Refugees and the Food (bank) of the Southern Tier,” Graw said. “Why Yemen? Well, we have chosen to send money to Yemen this year because, according to UNICEF, Yemen is the largest humanitarian crisis in the world.”

The first graders recited the poem ‘Dreams’ by Langston Hughes, followed by presentations from donation recipients from the Tompkins County Human Rights Coalition and the Ithaca Free Clinic.

Kids with Ms. Emily, Dr. Kennth Clarke and Norbert McCloskey

“There’s something called the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which was created not long after the end of the second world war, a terrible war which many people throughout the world did not want to see happen again. And so leaders within the nations that were involved in this war began to create a set of rights that would apply to all people and nations,” Dr. Kenneth Clarke, interim chair of the Tompkins County Human Rights Coalition said. “They teach us something that can be found in every major religion in the world. A teaching that tells us to treat others the way we want to be treated.

Clarke went on to ask the first-graders how they would like to be treated in the world. The first-graders responded, “good.”

“These are lessons that you will be able to take with you throughout your lives. Human rights are about freedom and the calendars that you have made, express these sentiments so beautifully and the money that you raise will help people who are trying to live free and to live better lives,” Clarke said. “Each of you, by contributing to this calendar, are helping people to feel better, to feel well, to have food and you are learning how to do human rights work. So what you are doing is valuable. What you have done is valuable. Continue to keep up the good work and for this and for all you’ve already done, we thank you very much.”

Executive Director of the Ithaca Health Alliance and the Ithaca Free Clinic Norbert McCloskey, similarly praised the young artists and advocates.

“Because of the good work that you’re doing, we’re going to be able to help people see a doctor when they need to see a doctor because we believe that health care is a human right and that providing health care to those in need is just the right thing to do,” McCloskey said.  

Each first-grader got a chance to get up in front of the crowd and read aloud their dreams for the world.

First-grader Dupe Odeyemi

“I have a dream where everyone can be together with their families. I have a dream where everyone is safe,” one of the students, Auden, said. “I have a dream where everyone can have a healthy life. The earth can be a better place.”

Auden’s artwork that went into the calendar, he said, depicts a child’s right to clean water.

“If they don’t have clean water they would die and it would be really sad if they died,” he said.

Auden’s mom, Jen Spitzer, said she was really inspired by the project and the kids that participated.

“I think they were all energized by the spirit of compassion and giving and I think Ms. Emily really communicated to them not only why they were making the calendars, but why they were raising money for the causes that they were,” said Spitzer. “One of the things that I love most about it was that they based it in the UN Declaration of Children’s Rights and every student wrote about a particular right for children that they felt they cared about, which I thought was so moving, I think that a lot of educators think that we should hold off on talking about the difficult issues but what I love so much about Ms. Emily is her intent to teach them about equity and social justice and advocacy at as early an age as can be taught.”

Emily Graw, or Ms. Emily has been leading her classrooms in this project for about 8 years, she said.

“The aim of this calendar project is to teach the kids to have a heart. Academic — wonderful, it’s great to have a brain, but we want to cultivate the children’s heart,” said Graw. “My wish is for the children to carry this kindness and compassion with them through the years.”

The calendars are still available for purchase at Buffalo Street Books and Alternatives Federal Credit Union.

Anna Lamb

Anna Lamb is a reporter for the Ithaca Voice. Questions? Story tips? Contact her at alamb@ithacavoice.com