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Lowes Island Students Help Sri Lanka Orphans

Elementary school dishes up desserts to raise money for orphanage destroyed by tsunami.

Six-year-old MacKenzie Swain clutched $60 in folded bills, far more than she needed to buy the 50-cent goodies at the Lowes Island Elementary School bake sale.

Principal Laurie McDonald told Swain Monday that she could have what she wanted as the first-grader eyed piles of cookies, brownies, Rice Krispies treats, and other desserts. Swain only needed a dollar or two of her own money, but she gave it all to help build a new orphanage in Sri Lanka.

McDonald organized the bake sale to help rebuild the Samaritan Children’s Home, destroyed by a tsunami in December. She said the appeal for desserts resulted in hundreds of treats and $5,500 in contributions.

“The idea is children helping children,” McDonald said. “It gives the children a good opportunity to help out.”

Barbara Wong, a parent volunteer who assisted with the fund-raiser, said people were dropping off checks and food. “We’ve had a phenomenal response,” she said. “We had a lot of children bring in extra money, rolls of pennies, a couple of dollars. Some decided not to have ice cream this week."

“I think it means a lot more to the kids when they can participate.”

Kathy Nekic, the school’s technology teacher, said the students were excited about making a difference. “They weren’t asking for change back!” she said, mirroring their fervor.

THREE YEARS AGO, Nekic worked at the Fields Road Elementary School in Gaithersburg, Md., with guidance counselor Diyanna Sanders. It was Sanders’ brother, Dayalan Sanders, who built the orphanage in 1994. He sold his townhouse in Maryland and used the money, with additional donations, to build the facility. He has been credited with saving the orphans’ lives moments before the tsunami destroyed their home.

According to news reports, Dayalan Sanders scooped up 28 children and his three-year-old daughter and placed them in a small motor boat while his wife and staff climbed aboard.

“You can never put yourself in that situation,” said Nekic, who called her colleague after the natural disaster struck Navalady, Sri Lanka. She was praying Dayalan Sanders and the orphans were spared.

MEANWHILE, McDonald started making plans to raise money to help tsunami victims. “My heart was broken,” she said, after learning an estimated 150,000 people were killed by the huge sea wave. “It is so incomprehensible.”

Nekic suggested using the fund raiser to rebuild the orphanage, and the principal agreed.

McDonald said Dayalan Sanders’ sister, who was unavailable for comment, has received more than $200,000 in donations from other sources so far.

Melissa Landry contributed a “Cactus Crunch” desert on behalf of her daughter, Madison, 5. “I talked to her a little bit about the tragedy,” Landry said. The mom explained that homes were destroyed, and that it is important to help others.

“I told her the money is going to go to the children whose lives were devastated,” the mother said, as she held her son Lucas, 2. “Of course, I put that in little kid’s words.”

McDonald stood by while children lined up to make their purchases. They have learned about the destruction, but they cannot thoroughly process it, she said.

When Madison Miller, 5, picked out a goody, she said she wanted to help, “because some people lost their parents.”

Laila Gallant, 5, said she was donating her money, because of “the poor people that were in a tsunami.”

Shaheen Hane, 5, grabbed a cookie. Handing over his money with a wide smile, he said simply, “I want to help people.”