In simple, declarative sentences, Mallory Fuccella offered the students at Evergreen Elementary School a philosophy to make the world better:
“Each person matters a lot, even when they look different or live differently from you. Those differences are what we call culture. Culture is the way that people talk and think, dress and believe, eat, celebrate, and do life.”
Her statement was also the theme of Kindness Adventure, her 45-minute presentation to the school last Monday promoting kindheartedness and open-mindedness. It’s produced by All For KIDZ, a company based in Seattle, Wash., that promotes academic achievement and character development.
The high-energy, sing-songy, interactive event took the children on a video trip to Nairobi, Kenya. There they visited the Bidii Primary School, where children greeted them and explained the differences and similarities between life in Metamora and Kenya.
Fuccella used Ned, a life-sized cutout cartoon kid to humorously bridge the gap between both worlds. She said they prepared for the 22-hour flight to Kenya but Ned got cold feet after his friends discouraged him with comments that people there dressed funny, talked weird, ate strange foods, and drank dirty water.
“They said, ‘Why would you go there? It’s just so different,’” Fuccella told the students. “I said, ‘Hey, Ned, different can be good.’”
She said Ned was reminded that the world holds 196 countries, seven continents, over 6,000 languages, and seven billion people.
“The cool thing about the world is that there are kids in every country,” Fuccella told the students. “They all have some things in common, and they are different in many ways.”
She made an actual trip to the Kenyan primary school with fellow All For KIDZ employees, and was greeted by school children welcoming them through a song sung in Swahili. “I don’t think Swahili is weird. I think it’s kind of cool,” she told the Evergreen students.
She taught them words in Swahili meaning “Hi,” “How are you?” and “Very fine,” then led them in a Swahili lesson through a special song.
Fuccella explained that, like Metamora, Kenya has businesses, shops, and a nearby beach like the one at Harrison Lake State Park in Fulton County. Then she listed the differences between the places, such as Africa’s elephants, hyenas, and lions, its fishing villages, and its traditional tribes of people, most famously the Maasai.
But in both places, “we are strong when we stick together, when we are kind to one another,” she said.
She also noted other differences in Kenya that elicited gasps from the students, such as living in houses made of sticks and mud, eating a puffy, doughy corn concoction called ugali, and going to school 12 hours per day in classrooms holding as many as 80 students.
“Good thing they love to learn, because they sure do a lot of it,” Fuccella said.
The people there spend a third of their day fetching water from dirty wells that are sometimes miles away, and capture rainwater, she said. They learn to make their own versions of things they have no access to, such as bicycles and soccer balls.
And she showed photos of Kenyan tribesmen wearing traditional clothes and body paint, saying they consider their outfits as normal as the Evergreen students consider theirs.
Fuccella selected several students to participate in a quiz show about Kenya, a modeling stint with African clothing, and the chance to share what the presentation taught them. She awarded them all with trinkets to wear.
“Every time we wear our Kenyan treasures they’re going to remind us to be kind to everyone, everywhere we go,” she said before encouraging the audience to yell, “Kindness rocks.”
Monica Carrizales, elementary school counselor, applauded Fuccella’s interactive presentation, saying it resonated with the students. She said in September and October the Evergreen students received kindness and anti-bullying messages.
“This was just kind of another way to enforce that if we’re kind to people that it takes away from the bullying thing,” she said.
David J. Coehrs can be reached at 419-335-2010.