Rhema Christian School families participated in an ornament fundraiser with Under One Sun—an organization that seeks to restore dignity for Haitian families through artistry.
The connection between Rhema and Under One Sun, both located in Peterborough, formed through the school’s office administrator Katie Lingard. Ms. Lingard works part-time for each and is passionate about working with Rhema students and sees it as a blessing to share with them about the vision of Under One Sun.
The experience has been beneficial for both Rhema and Under One Sun. “I feel it has opened a lot of doors and understanding for another culture and another people,” Ms. Lingard says.
Before Rhema students started their fundraiser Stephanie Guyatt, owner and founder of Under One Sun, shared about the Haitian artisans during a weekly chapel. She showed the students photos and explained the need for providing employment. The fundraiser order form included nine ornament designs—including a special red maple leaf for Canada’s 150th year—and three decor pieces.
Grade 7 student Atticus says it was interesting to learn how the Haitians would rather earn money for themselves than to have it given to them. His parents helped to sell the ornaments, and he says his church family were very supportive.
Ivy, in Grade 5, recalls hearing a story about one of the Haitians who helped make the ornaments and how with a good job he was able to help other families with the money.
“We should give back,” notes Naomi, a Grade 8 student. “We have so much; health and food, and a bed, (things) that they don’t have every day.”
The school fundraiser increases awareness in students about ethical shopping and the way we live. “We are not just selling pretty ornaments, as gorgeous as they are, but it is changing someone’s life,” Ms. Lingard says.
Many parents have expressed what a great idea the fundraiser is, and how different it from the standard magazine or pizza sales. “This is something that is unique and different but there is that feel-good aspect to it, that it’s not all about us, it is taking what we have and sharing that with others,” Ms. Lingard says.
The school community was receptive, with some alumni even coming into the office asking how to order or offering to sell the ornaments on behalf of the school.
Ms. Guyatt went on her first missions trip to Haiti in 2012. She learned the startling statistic that 80 percent of children in Haiti’s orphanages have living parents who cannot afford to feed and provide for them.
“There’s this crazy epidemic of orphanages,” she says, noting they are operated like businesses as the more children they have the more donations are given. On the trip she was asking what could be done to make long-term change, and was told there were no jobs, so many Haitians are unable to send their children to school.
“It broke my heart,” she says. She met a small group of artisans and took a step of faith to start Under One Sun, initially employing many mothers making handmade jewellery. Since then, the organization has expanded into metal work and Ms. Guyatt has made 22 trips to Haiti. Under One Sun provides employment for about 300 Haitians who are then able to support children and their education. The Haitian artisans also have access to medical benefits, at-work daycare and literacy, English and computer classes.
On her recent trip Ms. Guyatt met a woman whose late husband had worked as a metal worker for Under One Sun. With a baby and toddler, the woman had no income and was unable to access food daily. Under One Sun will be providing her with a safe and secure home and a bed (she was sleeping on plywood) and will look to provide her with work opportunities. There are many similar stories of need.
“I see major changes in the lives of people that have been working, especially the ones from the beginning,” Ms. Guyatt says. “Their kids going to school, all the beautiful things, it is really amazing.”
The ornament fundraiser relates to a broader focus at the school to develop a heart for others. In June, Rhema staff started discussing a desire for students to be engaged in something outside of the school. The theme of this school year is “heart to serve.”
“It’s developing a vision for our students at our school and it starts with a heart sense that God is calling us to the much bigger picture,” principal Sheila May says. “It’s not even about Rhema, it is not even about what our school vision is, it’s about everything we do bringing glory to God, and that compassionate heart being what drives our students.”
Though the school hoped to offer the community blessings, the school has in turn seen many blessings come to them. “It has been miraculous living day to day,” Mrs. May says.
She also notes the importance of focusing on the reason behind getting involved in something. “I want us to have a heart for hearing where God wants us to be, and when he is ready to use our gifts and talents that’s when he will use it to his glory,” Mrs. May says.
In addition to the partnership with Under One Sun, Rhema students are engaging in other activities that demonstrate compassion. In September, Grades 1-8 attended the Compassion International Experience in Oshawa, an immersive exhibit to experience the realities of global poverty and how to help others. Mrs. May is also looking at partnering with the GEMS program at a local church that is supporting a The Esther School, a Christian school in Zambia equipping orphaned and under-resourced children.
With Christmas almost upon us, the students at Rhema are distributing the hundreds of ornaments they sold through the fundraiser. As Rhema families and supporters display their special ornaments they will not only enjoy the beauty on their tree but also know their purchase is helping children. One portion of the funds generated goes to creating jobs in Haiti and the other equal portion is given to Rhema, with most going towards tuition assistance for families.
“Christmas is a time I find when people’s hearts are softened a little more to the idea of helping others,” Ms. Lingard says. “It’s the time of year we think of the ultimate gift that was given to us and I think this type of thing is a good fit when we have that mindset.”
Rhema has been referred to as “the school that embraces community,” says Mrs. May, adding she sees the next step being “a community helping communities.” The partnership with Under One Sun is part of that direction as the school community learns about the positive changes for Haitian families. Mrs. May says God plants the ways to connect different pieces together. “When we look at developing a child here at our school, developing the heart for people will be what drives us.”
Under One Sun’s ornament fundraiser is spreading among other Christian schools. Their capacity is at a first-come first-served basis. To learn more about the organization and how to get involved, visit www.underonesun.ca.