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It was no accident these two people met

Deborah Stuart of Waxhaw helped Weddington Elementary students become pen pals with the students in Guatemala.

"I've heard it said/ that people come into our lives for a reason/ Bringing something we must learn/ and we are led/ to those who help us most to grow / If we let them/ and we help them in return"
- From the musical "Wicked"

I'm continually intrigued by how seemingly random interactions between people turn into something much larger.
I used to think of these as "one-thing-just-led-to-another" stories.
Today, the story I relate is one that makes me believe, once again, that things happen for a reason.

Maryann Stoner is a second-grade teacher at Weddington Elementary School and an equestrian. While taking riding lessons at Thunder Bay Riding Academy, here in Waxhaw, she met Deb Stuart, the owner of Thunder Bay.

Deb had earlier adopted a remote village in Guatemala as the result of a language exchange program. How does one come to adopt a village? Deb didn't have a lot of money, so she decided to help somewhere that her small amount of money could make a difference. Deb said she did extensive research on the computer.
She decided to go herself and see what they needed. Deb had already made two trips to the village of Climentoro when she met Maryann.
An idea surfaced between them.
Suppose the other second graders at Weddington Elementary became pen pals with the children in Deb's adopted village.

Deb came to the school and delivered a PowerPoint presentation that quickly captured the imaginations and hearts of the assembled second grade. I've seen the presentation, and I was sold too. Moving seamlessly between Spanish and English, Deb told of the village and its' school to children who had been raised on "Dora the Explorer."

"The children are a lot like you, kids, except that they sit on rocks for their classes, and the boys and girls restrooms are side by side open air booths. In Guatemala, education is a privilege, not a right, and attending class often comes in second, behind picking coffee," she said.

The Weddington second graders embraced the pen pal concept, and learned the names of their pen pals from bottles filled by Deb. They were assisted in translating their thoughts into Spanish by a language teacher, and all were ready to go.
There was one small issue. Climentoro is so remote...they don't receive mail.

The second grade and their families united behind a fundraising effort to purchase books for their new pals. This was a project that took most of the school year. Along the way, they learned about Guatemalan culture. They learned to read maps while studying Guatemala's geography. They came to realize that life in Guatemala was quite different from a material perspective than life in Weddington.

Deb Stuart took the letters, the money to buy books, her laptop and her camera and made her third trip to Guatemala. She sent a running travelogue back to Weddington Elementary. I was privileged to see the correspondence, and I felt like I was seeing original dispatches from Lewis and Clark.
Here's a sample:
"Today it is off with your letters to Climentoro. It is the highest point in Huehue. The road at times disappears into the clouds or suddenly out of the clouds appears a man on a donkey or a woman with a large basket of laundry on her head. When we rise above the clouds the sky clears and the views are spectacular. You can see for what looks like miles." The text of Deb's dispatches is a book itself, or maybe a movie.

Deb delivered the letters, the books and made the connection between the children of Climentoro and the second graders and their families from Weddington. She took pictures of all the children, most of whom had never seen their own image before, except as a reflection in water. She returned two weeks ago with letters from Guatemala for their new pen pals.

By the time you read this, the second-graders of Weddington Elementary will have received a letter back from their new pen pal and lifetime friendships will have begun.
So, I find myself drawn back to the lyrics from "Wicked." Who helped whom the most? Who learned the most, or suppose Deb Stuart chose to learn Swedish instead of Spanish? 



Written by: This article was provided courtesy of John Anderson of The Charlotte Observer
Posted: Mar 10, 2011 by Colleen Salter

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