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The City Journals

Changing the world one toy at a time

Jan 20, 2017 01:07PM ● By Natalie Mollinet

The Leaver family sponsored the girl in this family. Here they are in front of the food that was purchased for them. (Diane Leaver)

It’s easy during the holidays to remember those who are in need, but after the tree is put away, our minds sometimes forget giving and focus on those New Year’s resolutions. But for the students at Highland Park Elementary their season of giving continues well after the holidays through donations of toys to children in Guatemala.

“My family and I went to Guatemala with a small tour group that was involved with,” Diane Leaver, a Sugar House resident, said. Leaver is a substitute teacher at Highland Park and gave a presentation to the students about their trip to Guatemala and how the people live there.

“I think the children were shocked to see that the other children were not living or enjoying the same things they have,” Leaver said. “One student brought up the question of what exactly is the poverty line in Guatemala? I had to look it up. It isn’t a number, but simply that they don’t have enough money for food, shelter and clothing.”

The students who saw the presentation at Highland Park—with the help of their teachers and Leaver—came up with an idea to donate their toys to the kids in Guatemala. One of the students, Abby Grow, a sixth grader, said that some of the pictures that Leaver showed motivated her to go above and beyond.

“When we were watching the video I just remember thinking I’m going to go home and collect a lot of toys for them,” Abby said.

Abby has already donated six or seven bags of toys, things ranging from jump ropes to Slinky’s to stuffed animals. She said one picture that motivated her was that of a boy who wouldn’t let go of a football because he was afraid he would never get it back. Other students at the school have also been collecting their toys from home and school supplies to send to the kids.

“I gave them some notebooks and stuffed animals,” Olive Liston, a fifth grader at Highland Park, said. “It makes me feel happy, because doing good things makes me feel good.”

Leaver and her family have been sponsoring a Mayan girl who has six siblings. She said that education is the key to success and that if the child stays in school they will remain sponsored. Leaver said another big issue in Guatemala is childhood malnutrition. Their diet consists of mainly rice and beans which doesn’t offer all the nutrients they need. Guatemala has the fourth highest rate of childhood malnutrition with half of all the children under five being malnourished.

 “It is difficult for the parents to provide even enough food for the family to eat, much less enough money to keep them in school, provide health care, clothing and toys,” said Leaver. “They do not even have enough beds for all the children.”

When Leaver and her family traveled to Guatemala they brought lightly used clothing, shoes and toys. She said the children were excited to have these things, as well as the 100 pounds of corn and 50 pounds of black beans that they purchased for the family. That amount of food could last the family two weeks.

“I came back from Guatemala with a renewed purpose,” Leaver said. “Armed with a new knowledge of poverty, a DVD of our trip and traditional clothing, handcrafts, money and jewelry I began presentations to the upper grades at Highland Park.”

Her presentation paid off and the students asked her what they could do to help these children.

“Children seem to have an innate desire to help others,” she said. “If I had asked for basic necessities, which in fact the Mayan people need, it would not have been the children helping other children. Giving their gently used toys gave them a sense of purpose and ownership.”

The toys the children donated will be collected until the beginning of February as Leaver and her husband return to Guatemala on Feb. 12. Leaver said that the holiday season was a perfect time for the students to donate used toys since many received new toys for Christmas.

“They need more stuff than we do,” Abby said. “I care about my toys, but not as much as I want to give them away.”